Photos by Conal Thomas

Journalist Barbara Scully recently took an expensive trip on the Luas.

Having parked her car near the Carrickmines stop, on Friday 15 September, she put her €7.70 into the ticket machine – €5.70 for a return Luas ticket to Harcourt Street and €2 for all-day parking.

She took her ticket from the slot below and went on with her day, she says. But it transpired that the ticket she had in hand when an inspector appeared to check it on her return tram ride, was dated 12 September, and was for car parking only.

Given a fine notice, Scully went online to appeal the €45 penalty.

While it’s possible that she may have taken someone else’s three-day-old ticket from the machine’s slot, the manner in which Luas dealt with, and subsequently, rejected her appeal was nothing short of a “gotcha” approach, Scully says.

72% Success Rate

Having appealed her fine, Scully received a letter stating that if she didn’t pay it, she could be summonsed to Dublin District Court, where she could be fined up to €1,000.

The letter noted that “our success rate for prosecutions similar to your case in the district courts for 2015 was 72%”.

Scully responded by requesting CCTV footage of herself on the platform, paying for her ticket, which she later viewed, she said.

So, has this happened elsewhere? Did the machine malfunction? We checked out a few Luas machines to see.

At 3:53pm Monday at St Stephen’s Green, on the green line, a woman runs frantically to make the next tram departing towards Sandyford.

A commuter, topping up her Leap card, pays on card as her receipt issues into the slot below. The date and time are both correct, 3:56 pm.

Later, at Smithfield Luas stop, just after 6:30pm, the machines appear to be issuing the correct tickets too.

It’s getting dark as suited commuters wait at either platform for the red line Luas, towards Connolly and Saggart, respectively.

After popping €2 into the machine, for a ticket up to Jervis Street, the machine prints the small, purple-and-white slip. The date and time are both correct again.

Further along the red line, at the Four Courts, the rain starts coming down as more and more passengers climb aboard.

At Jervis Street all seems to be in order, as the beep of Leap cards tagging off rings out across the platform. None, when questioned, have experienced anything similar to Scully’s recent debacle.

So, perhaps, it was just that one park-and-ride machine further down the green line at Carrickmines that was faulty. Or else it was an honest mistake. “I’m not saying that the machine printed out that ticket,” says Scully. “It could have been sat there.”

The Transdev Press Office didn’t respond yet to queries about Scully’s case, asking how their Luas machines are maintained, how often they’re inspected, if some machines are faulty, and, if so, which ones.

It also didn’t respond to queries about if, and how many, complaints they had received about possibly faulty machines, and whether they considered their approach to Scully’s case unfair.

A Gotcha Approach

As Scully sees it, her case is an example of the “gotcha approach” Luas and Transdev take with regards to fines.

It didn’t matter, she says, that she’d paid for a ticket she thought was the correct one.

The way the Light Railway (Regulation of Travel and Use) Bye-laws 2015 work means you need to be in possession of a correct ticket, no more, no less. “By the time I got to [viewing the CCTV] I knew I was wasting my time,” says Scully.

The footage, she says, showed her on the platform purchasing her park-and-ride ticket.

Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe thinks Luas could have acted differently. “It seems unfair to me. I’d have thought the Luas team could look a bit more compassionately at Ms Scully’s case,” he says.

Having now paid the €45 fine, Scully hopes her experience serves as a warning to others who may, in future, experience something similar on the Luas.

The National Transport Authority, like Transdev, did not respond to queries asking how Luas ticket machines are maintained and whether they consider this approach unfair.

But, in future, “be very, very careful”, says Scully. “Check your ticket.”

If you’ve experienced a Luas machine printing a ticket with the wrong date, please get in touch. We’d like to hear from you.

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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