Hints and Tips on fare evading : save money on the tube

As a matter of principle I never pay for the tube.

You might well ask me why, and to be entirely honest I'm not really sure. It could be that fugitive thrill felt when seeing ticket inspectors enter a train carriage, or simply the sense of achievement you can't help feeling when you know you've got something for free.

Or is it because London Underground tickets are so unreasonably priced? No metro system on the planet charges more. Or even because I never get a person-sized space in the carriage (my face crammed into someone's arm pit...)? Or perhaps because I can't bring myself to support an organisation that consistently asks you not to "encourage beggars by giving them change". It's probably a mixture of all of these things, and anyway I never have the cash.

So after years of fine-tuning the dodger's art, I feel it is time for me to impart this precious knowledge.

Key concepts

The first and central concept to fare evading philosophy is the idea of space; preserve your anonymity. Think how hard it is to stop a stranger in their tracks if not invited to do so by a glance or slight smile. This idea is doubly true when travelling for free. If you are focused uniquely on leaving a station unhampered, it requires enormous effort for another human being to stop you. The accomplished fare dodger can preserve anonymity at all times; he will almost never meet the ticket inspector's eyes thereby remaining invisible.

The idea can be applied using a few practical techniques. Practice at home an expression of extreme pre-occupation, or even try emulating someone stifling tears (this works particularly well for our tube-dodgeresses). Once you feel that you can carry this off convincingly, and have asked a few friends to check if it conveys the right impression, try using it at a station without barriers. If you are slightly nervous at first you can even have a valid ticket in your pocket in case challenged. When carrying this manoeuvre out, be sure to hurry through the gate with no regard for the inspector.

Some useful variations

If travelling with a friend this presents a whole new range of possibilities. Camden station is notoriously difficult to pass through during the weekend. With Julian I used to adopt a strategy of either being deep in intimate discussion, or, and this proved most effective, of arguing passionately about a fictional girlfriend or political issue. As you can see the only limitation to this technique is your own creativity.

This method can be aided by the use of a prop. Try for example pretending to look through your wallet or purse for an elusive ticket as you hurry past. None but the most zealous of ticket inspectors will ask you to wait until you find your ticket. If you are carrying a heavy object such as a musical instrument or some books, you can easily deploy these to your advantage: struggle past the gate with your heavy load, or even drop it in front of the inspector. You can rest assured he won't think to ask for your ticket.

Turn this idea on its head, and it can be used even more effectively.

Often by confronting the inspector directly, your lack of fear convinces him of your validity to travel: try asking him what Zone you're in, or how you can best get to Holborn. Body language can prove equally as distracting. Many times I have used an old ticket found on the pavement outside the station without hindrance by engaging the inspector so directly with a look or smile that his attention is drawn away from the ticket entirely.

The central principle of this method is to focus the inspector's attention on something other than your ticket. The issue of whether it is valid or not becomes of secondary importance, or even entirely irrelevant. Try thinking of different ways of engaging him in this way.

Ticket barriers

Ticket barriers have become an integral part of our daily lives. However these can actually aid rather than hinder the cause of the fare evader; he can pass unnoticed simply by slipping through the gate just behind someone else. As a novice you may find this slightly difficult, but with practise you will be able to do it with a single fluid motion. Try doing this a few times with a valid ticket in your pocket until you feel comfortable; your skill must be in moving quickly enough to pass behind your benefactor, but slowly enough so as not to alert them to your ruse.

To make this slightly easier, you need to understand the functioning of the barrier itself.

On removing a valid ticket from the machine, the gates will open allowing the legitimate traveller to pass on their way. Our interest, however, lies in the way the barrier decides to close. If you get the opportunity to examine the machine itself you will find a small square of tinted glass mounted at just below waist height on a vertical ridge either side of the gate. This functions as an infra-red emitter/receiver system, informing the machine when the passenger has passed through. As a fare dodger, placing your palm over this screen as the ticket-holder passes will dupe the barrier into giving you plenty or time for your manoeuvre.

On rare occasions you will be able to profit from errors in the functioning of the system itself; for example any travel card from 1997 will work in most underground machines within the times of its validity. Often train tickets that have underground extensions will function for a number of weeks; it is up to you to experiment with different ticket types. A common myth however, is that tickets can be ironed to renew their validity, this was true a couple of years ago but the system has been subsequently changed.

As you progress in the tube-dodger's art you will develop your personal mixture of these methods, and more of your own. However luck is your most important alley, and we must always remember that none of these techniques are fool-proof.

Getting caught

As a fare evader you will eventually get caught. Clearly a £10 fine once every 6 months is an enormous saving on the otherwise astronomical traveling costs facing any London resident. And if you manage to keep your cool when finally cornered by an irate ticket inspector, you need not even pay this small sum. Do not be deceived by threats of court, or of calling the police. Imagine the reaction of a busy police officer when asked to arrest someone who owes a £1.70 tube ticket.

If you tell him that you don't have the money the Inspector will try to get your address in order to fine you. You will see that he has a machine that seems to check the validity of your address, but despite appearances it is purely capable of cross-referencing an address with a post code. You need only give him an address with relevant post-code (neighbour, ex-girlfriend...) to escape unscathed and uncharged by this procedure. Refuse to give him access to any documents, offer the wrong address, with corresponding post code, and you can be sure of never having to pay a penny to London Underground.

A friend of mine, caught red-handed, ticketless, even phoned London Underground on receiving a fine saying "How dare you accuse me of this, I was out of the country ..." etc. The clerk duly apologised and annulled the bill.

Tube dodging failure can prove either traumatic or comic. I once bumped slightly into an oldish east-end man as I was returning from work. Feeling personally affronted by my strategy he began shouting "you thieving bastard", and to the bored station staff "he's a thieving bastard".

Moral issues

His reaction in fact proves that the fare evader is justified in his crime. He feels that I have stolen directly from him. This is because in the mid-nineties London Underground employed an advertising campaign claiming that tickets were rising because of the cost of fare evasion itself. Tube tickets are so highly priced that many off the less fortunate among us cannot realistically afford to travel to work or to see a friend. London Underground has adopted a strategy of trying to increase profits by cutting down on fare evasion, while improving their public image by placing responsibility for the steady rise in ticket prices on society's marginalised.

This policy of victimising the weak and profiting from the rich justifies the direct action taken by the fare evader; when will we be able to profit, from the record profits announced last year by London Underground, through subsidised travel cards for the unemployed or the elderly, or an overall reduction in single and return fares?

It only remains for me to wish you luck as you learn the tube dodger's art, and to hope that if these tips have been useful, your career as a fare evader will prove always challenging and ultimately, liberating.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.