BEFORE barrier checks were introduced at railway stations a few years back, you could occasionally see people trying to avoid paying their train fares.
People would hide in toilets, or pretend to be fast asleep. It didn't always work - the conductors seemed to be wise to any tricks that passengers could pull.
They'd wait outside toilets, taking the understandable view that their quarry would have to come out sometime.
I'd watch, heart in mouth, to see what would happen. As the unlikely stand-off continued - conductor, arms folded, waiting patiently outside a locked WC door, the miscreant inside, perhaps already aware that there could only really be one winner - I'd wonder why the fare was being dodged.
Was it because the bloke was genuinely skint, or was there an element of reckless bravado, perhaps fuelled by alcohol?
Whatever it was, I'd never have the nerve to dodge a fare. Being apprehended, landing up in court, getting your name in the paper, that sort of thing - that level of public disgrace just seemed too outlandish for someone as risk-averse** as me.
As it turns out, those guys who pretended to be asleep, or shut themselves inside a public loo that was speeding towards Glasgow, or Edinburgh, at 90mph - were mere innocents.
For the real thing - the sort of fare-dodging on an epic scale - turn to a case that has just emerged in London.
A commuter there has managed to evade paying almost £43,000 on tickets on his daily commute. Over five years, he took advantage of a loophole: he realised that by "tapping out" with his Oyster card at his mainline city station, but not "tapping in" at his quiet rural station, he would only have to pay a tiny fraction of his total fare.
Some have admired the audacity of the unidentified (and unprosecuted) "biggest fare dodger in railway history". One commentator, referring to rail bosses' fat-cat salaries and their monopoly of the railways, describes him as a combination of a criminal and a resistance fighter.
Whatever his motivation, it certainly wasn't because he was skint: he works, after all, as a hedge-fund manager. Bravado, then; but I'd have loved to have seen him try it on with those no-nonsense conductors on the Glasgow-Edinburgh line.
** By which I mean "cowardly". To a quite craven extent.
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