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Big fines on trains - is this real?

Is this legit: My daughter is abroad and on two different trains, she was charged a horrendous amount as a "fine" while aboard. Once in Austria for not buying the right ticket (50 Euro), which is 9x the price of the original ticket, and again in Germany (60 Euro) for buying a ticket that had only a certain # of stops. Both conductors required cash on the spot.

Is this for real, or did she get scammed?? If it's real, crikey -- how do we avoid such a thing?? Thank you!

Posted by
3111 posts

The fines seem pretty typical for not having the right ticket. Payment on the spot is normal. She can avoid this by researching and purchasing the correct ticket for the route.

Posted by
3206 posts

€60 is the price for travelling without a valid ticket in Germany so it sounds correct. What kind of ticket did she have and what train was she using?

Posted by
6639 posts

Yes, they don't take the "I'm just a visitor and didn't understand" excuse over there. Same on buses. I've heard of people who got walked off a bus and escorted to an ATM of they didn't have the cash.

Posted by
4 posts

Wow. That seems so steep! She thought she was doing the right thing after Austria and still stepped in it deep! Whoa.

Thanks for your feedback all.

Posted by
203 posts

Yes, I agree that €60 is a fairly normal fine in Germany for being caught without the proper ticket. About "scams": On Deutsche Bahn trains, conductors in Germany all have badges and uniforms, so are easy to identify. The train inspectors on transit networks inside of cities are often plainclothed (since the checks are surprise checks), but they also have identity badges that they show as well as official paperwork for recording Schwarzfahrer (people riding without the proper ticket). Neither category of employee is in the business of pocketing cash from hapless tourists.

I don't mean to be mean, but why is it surprising that there is a fine for breaking the rules? I understand it is unintentional on the part of your daughter, but that is often not a sufficient excuse.

The way to avoid this is to purchase the correct ticket. In Germany, large train stations will have a service window with employees who can help. Also, the phone app from Deutsche Bahn is quite good and easy to use. And, you or your daughter can, if all else fails, see if other travelers on the platform can help -- I am often asked questions, and do my best to assist. The same goes for urban transportation networks: Most have apps and all have websites where one can familiarise oneself with the rules in that city.

Posted by
3830 posts

€50-60 is actually good, some countries have worse fines. Typically €100 in France.

Posted by
6871 posts

Fines are purposely set "high" in order to have a deterrent effect. Just like an expensive speeding ticket or HOV lane violation. Once you pay it, you're likely to be more careful next time.

Posted by
2472 posts

We were once stopped just past the Slovenian border for speeding, even just a few kilometers over is a few too many. The police escorted us to an ATM to pay the €150 fine.

Posted by
3662 posts

Honestly, I thought any non-reserved train anywhere in the world allowed purchase onboard of a ticket from the conductor for an additional charge, like 15%. That's what conductors do, they sell tickets. This must be happening on short distance or urban commuter trains, trains without conductors, where there are random spot checks of tickets like on a bus or tram. So I'm thinking that conductor is the wrong word in the OP, unless I have missed something in Europe. Or it is a scam and the tickets were correct.

From a tourism website (Germany):

"Pay on the spot
Some scammers impersonate BVG controllers to defraud people riding without tickets. There are even real controllers who pocket the money from those who pay their fines in cash.

If you pay on the spot, don't use cash and ask for a receipt.

Pay online
If you have a European bank account, you can pay the BVG fine online. You can also ask for a fine reduction online.

Posted by
5473 posts

Tom, in Germany, for example, you have to approach the conductor as soon as possible, preferably before the journey begins. Otherwise you will be assumed to be riding without a ticket when he comes to your seat. "The machine was broken" is not an acceptable excuse, I have read. (Many small German stations are completely unattended.)

I think the OP, and some other posters are not giving enough weight to the local practice of an "honor system" that includes weekly and monthly "subscription" tickets. Now, I'm mushing up in-city busses and trains with long-distance trains, but the assumption is the same: Supervision is lax, because the assumption is that everyone has paid (or validated their ticket, or whatever) before they board. It's important to consider that Europeans expect mass transit to be subsidized by the government. Americans with Chevy Suburbans and Lincoln Navigators won't vote for politicians who subsidize mass transit!

There's a long tradition that "daily" railpasses have to be signed and dated before the train starts up. Otherwise you are assumed to be hoping that the conductor will not get around to checking your ticket. The same is true of 10-journey open tickets I've bought in Belgium.

In a desperate attempt to reduce labor costs, any labor costs, cash is not accepted on some busses in the United States, or change is not made. It may be framed as brilliant management to avoid a fare increase this year, but it all comes down to taxpayer reluctance to pay for government services, even ones they expect and use. I've heard people telling others that they should include bridge tolls in their sum of monthly "taxes". But a bridge toll is a "user fee", and we certainly know that bridges fall into the river if they are not painted and repaired.

As someone who started riding the NY Subway in the 1950's, I was astonished when the Transit Authority started closing token booths (in the 2000's) but left conventional "low" turnstiles in completely unstaffed entrances. They had previously prioritized catching and prosecuting fare evasion, in a zealous, Puritan way. They used to put high-turnstiles (also called "iron maidens") in unstaffed locations to prevent evasion. But the desire to save money finally took priority over everything! And the police occasionally lie in wait for turnstile-vaulters. And of course you lose the safety function of a live token booth clerk.

Posted by
18310 posts

in Germany (60 Euro) for buying a ticket that had only a certain # of stops.

Please elaborate. "Buying a ticket that only had a certain number of stops" doesn't sound like a fine-able offense to me. Unless she paid for a ticket for one route between stations and used another, longer route (like bought a ticket for direct from Munich to Augsburg but took a longer (more expensive) route through Nürnberg.

In 2017, I bought a ticket online in advance for FRA Fernbahnhof to Bad Wildbad for around 50€. That ticket had changes in Kaarlsruhe and Pforzheim. It was an open ticket good for any connection on the route. We just barely missed the train at noon. The next connection to Bad Wildbad, an hour later, had changes in Stuttgart and Pforzheim and was around 75€. Had I taken the second train an hour later with the same ticket, I could have been fined, because it was not on the same route (and it was a more expensive train).

I avoided a fine because I asked at the ticket counter if I could use my original ticket for next train (I suspected no) and was told I would have to pay the difference.

Posted by
3662 posts

Tim: I will take your word for it, but for the distance trains I have taken in Germany the conductor visits every seat after every stop checking tickets, so there is no way to freeload on them that I can see. Of course the in-city trains don't operate that way but more like a tram or bus, stopping frequently.

Posted by
3206 posts

@Tom: It is not possible to buy tickets from the conductors on DB trains anymore. Couldn't find a source in English but here is one in German, "Seit dem 01.01.2022 können Sie keine Tickets mehr bei den Zugbegleiter:innen im Fernverkehr kaufen." https://www.bahn.de/service/buchung/wege_zur_fahrkarte

BVG is the company that runs the local public transport in Berlin, and their rules don't apply outside Berlin.

Posted by
5473 posts

Badger, thanks for your research. I have two similar references, with an interesting addition.

FAQ: https://www.bahn.de/hilfe/buchung
Question is "Kann ich noch im Zug ein ticket Kaufen?"

Ways to get a ticket: https://www.bahn.de/service/buchung/wege_zur_fahrkarte

Seit dem 01.01.2022 können Sie keine Tickets mehr bei den Zugbegleiter:innen im Fernverkehr kaufen.

Sie können in den Fernverkehrszügen aber Ihr Digitales Ticket bis 10 Minuten (auch bei Verspätung) nach Abfahrt auf bahn.de oder in der App DB Navigator buchen. Voraussetzung ist, dass zwischen dem Einstiegsbahnhof und dem nächsten Haltebahnhof mehr als 10 Minuten Fahrzeit vorgesehen sind.

Second paragraph says you can buy a ticket online up to ten minutes after departure on long-distance trains., if the next stop is at least ten minutes away. I agree that we need a rules quote specifically for local and regional trains

I was disappointed that the respected Man in Seat 61 site does not discuss this issue. But it not frequently updated.

Posted by
18310 posts

Since the Nahverkehr is run by individual Länder (or groups of Länder), maybe on train ticket sales depends on the Land you are in. Perhaps we need to look at the website for each Nahverkehr. Here is the one for Bavaria.

Posted by
3662 posts

Badger: Thanks, at least it is a brand new change, and thanks for a reminder of one reason why I gave up trying to learn German, the placement of verbs is not very natural.

It does sound like the rides in the OP were on a commuter train or another short train trip.

Posted by
18310 posts

I found some information about on-board ticket purchase for regional trains on this Bahn webpage (apparently for all Länder).

Für Nahverkehrsverbindungen des Deutschlandtarifs gilt, dass im Zug
beim Zugpersonal Fahrkarten nur für die konkrete Hin- und/oder
Rückfahrt und nur zum Bordpreis (Fahrpreis zum Normalpreis für die
gewünschte Strecke zzgl. eines prozentualen Aufpreises von 10%, mind.
2 €, maximal 10 €) erhältlich sind. Das im Zug verkaufte Sortiment
kann auch eingeschränkt sein. In entsprechend gekennzeichneten Zügen
findet kein Verkauf statt.

For local transport connections of the Germany tariff, tickets can only be purchased from the train staff for the specific outward and/or
return journey and only at the on-board price (fare at the normal
price for the desired route plus a percentage surcharge of 10%, min. 2
€, maximum 10 €) are available. The range sold on the train may also
be limited. There is no sale on trains marked accordingly.

Posted by
2580 posts

Sorry, I'm in the camp where a fine should create a deterrence so it should be reasonable, and there should be some compassion towards gaijin who are not trying to game the system but don't understand it.

Posted by
18310 posts

Once, in Munich, I saw a teenage boy get caught using a ticket twice (überstampft). I don't think the fine was collected on the spot, but he probably had ID showing he lived in Germany.

With Americans, if they don't collect the fine on the spot, we will probably leave and never pay it. How many times have you seen posters here ask if they have to pay traffic fines from Europe?

Posted by
3270 posts

Sorry phred, but ignorance is no excuse. We could all claim that and expect to be let off? I don't think so.

Posted by
1016 posts

I experienced some compassion from a ticket checker in Italy many years ago. We had rushed to make the train and forgot to stamp our regional tickets. When the ticket checker looked at our tickets and told us they weren't stamped, I literally smacked my head and apologized, and said I knew better. We were fined five euros each, when it could have been fifty. It was gracious, and haven't forgotten to stamp a ticket since!

Posted by
3028 posts

I once had a conductor in Germany cut me slack on buying the wrong ticket. After punching away feverishly on her hand-held ticket contraption, she told me my excuse sounded reasonable, and she couldn't figure out how to charge me the difference I should have paid. A few stops later she had a sheepish-looking guy taken off the train in handcuffs -- not sure what that was all about.

Posted by
3028 posts

Germany ticket conductor grace #2: In 2019, I bought a ticket on the DB app for the wrong day on a train from Bremen to Lüneburg (blasted European calendar where each week starts on Monday!). The conductor told me to buy the ticket for the correct day, and she would come back and check it. I couldn't get the app to let me do that; she never came back to check.

Posted by
308 posts

In Portland I had to pay $75 because I was riding the Max (local train) without my monthly pass. Showing my valid monthly pass in court would not have negated the fine.

I only add this because the fines mentioned are on par with fines in at least one US.

Posted by
3304 posts

As someone who started riding the NY Subway in the 1950's, I was astonished when the Transit Authority started closing token booths (in the 2000's) but left conventional "low" turnstiles in completely unstaffed entrances. They had previously prioritized catching and prosecuting fare evasion, in a zealous, Puritan way. They used to put high-turnstiles (also called "iron maidens") in unstaffed locations to prevent evasion. But the desire to save money finally took priority over everything! And the police occasionally lie in wait for turnstile-vaulters.

Tim, the last DA (Vance Jr) announced no more prosecutions of fare evaders & the current DA is continuing that. Hence the horrific rise in violent crime in the subways along with the bail reforms eliminating or drastically lowering bail. 😔

Posted by
92 posts

Ooh, yes. Brings back memories of our first trip to Europe some years ago. We didn't know to validate the ticket before we got on the train in Venice, Italy. I don't remember the amount, but it was definitely not cheap! Sorry your daughter had an expensive lesson, also. Ouch. And the elderly Italian ladies talking about us...we couldn't tell if it was sympathy or tsk, tsk!

Posted by
27742 posts

Honestly, I thought any non-reserved train anywhere in the world allowed purchase onboard of a ticket from the conductor for an additional charge, like 15%. That's what conductors do, they sell tickets.

Nope. From the horse's mouth, 20 years of dealing with people with similar misapprehension.

I and my colleagues had heard every excuse under the sun and very few cut any ice. The job of a conductor (many different names for the role around the world) is first and foremost to ensure the safety of the train and the passengers and crew, and incidentally to ensure that all passengers have the correct ticket (or any ticket!!) for their journey - selling tickets to people who have boarded from stations where tickets were not possible to buy (very rare) and enforcing payment of appropriate deterrence to those without the correct.

Maybe where you live that is their job. Which railroad company led you to believe this?

Posted by
4690 posts

For Austria, the train conductors will have have valid ID to show when asking for a ticket. As public transportation in Austria is on the honor system (no turnstiles to enter platforms), it is the responsibility of each passenger to have the correct ticket. To control this honor system, there are random checks and/or conductors who will ask to see the tickets. To avoid this situation, your daughter can always ask a person at the ticket office to confirm she has the right ticket.

It would be interesting to know where she was traveling in Austria for 9 Euro. Can you provide that detail as it will help me answer better.

Posted by
3662 posts

Which railroad company led you to believe this?

Nigel:

Amtrak allows purchase of undiscounted tickets onboard, no penalty

Deutsche Bahn sold undiscounted tickets onboard plus a 10% penalty until 2 months ago.

The commuter trains in Chicago sell tickets onboard plus a $5 penalty.

FWIW: My limited recent UK rail experience is that there was a barrier to access and leave the platforms and it was only opened with a ticket so riding without a ticket was clearly wrongdoing, although once the barrier was propped open.

Posted by
4667 posts

Why is there so much scepticism from many Americans towards Europe when it comes to fines for what some consider minor transgressions? I have never seen so much paranoia about scams as I have on these boards. Anyone reading these forums would think that the Euopean continent is awash with thieves, conmen and scam artists! FWIW the only place in the world where I have been scammed was Dallas, Texas.

€50 is not an unreasonable fine. My friends and I were fined for taking an earlier train from Milan to Rome to the one we had tickets for. We were naive enough to believe one of the attendants at Milan that a waiting train was the one we had tickets for, turns out he was incorrect. Fortunately the attendant at Rome only charged one fine of €50 so we got off lightly, cash on the spot.

Posted by
1075 posts

JC

It isn't personal. There are scammers everywhere.
It comes up a lot regarding transit, because most Americans transit in their car only.
It seems that most of the Americans on the forum agree that ignorance is no excuse

Posted by
3206 posts

It comes up a lot regarding transit, because most Americans transit in
their car only.

It comes up a lot regarding driving as well. Speeding tickets, ZTL violations etc.

Posted by
9716 posts

I think part of it also is "cash on the spot" as that would not be the way US residents are used to paying a fine. We'd have an address or email to send the payment in to.

Posted by
6639 posts

That's just it, JC. Outside a few major east coast cities, most middle class Americans avoid public transportation here because they assume its unsafe. A first-responder friend of mine teaches classes to city bus drivers on reacting to violence (often armed) on board the buses, and for reason. So someone coming up to you demanding money on a train or bus, is automatically suspect. Paying fines to police directly is also something unheard of in the US. Add in the language barrier and we're alarmed.

Posted by
3304 posts

The size of the fine is intended to convey the message that breaking the law is serious. Here’s a counter example. In California it is illegal to be on an electronic device, talking, texting, whatever, while driving. (A law is needed to discourage such dangerous behavior?!). However, the fine is only $10 or $20. I forget which, but it’s trivial. I see plenty of scofflaws as I navigate the roads. $100 would be more apprpriate to convey the message that such behavior poses a danger to others.

Posted by
3662 posts

Adding a few fare evasion numbers for US cities for comparison, and although these may included rail systems they are not "train" situations, train defined as being a system with a conductor. Just pointing out like previous poster Becky that the fines are similar or worse in US.
Washington, used to be $300 now $50
Minneapolis/St. Paul is $180 unless recently changed
Seattle is $50 or only $25 if paid promptly
San Francisco is $75

My attitude toward this kind of thing is you try your best to follow all the rules but sometimes you will miss something and if you end up with a fine then it doesn't mean that you are stupid or amoral.

Posted by
3662 posts

It's another topic, but most Americans don't deal with tourist crime even when traveling in the US. Pickpockets? Petition scammers? Change money scams? It's borderline unknown.

Whereas every visitor to the Seine area in Paris gets the petition scammers, and I have had pickpocket attempts at both Rome Termini and Madrid Atocha, so the scamming and pickpocketing really happens and frankly quite a lot in my experience.

Posted by
1819 posts

The two places I have been scammed were at JFK in New York from a taxi driver, and in Vancouver BC with a stolen wallet in a coffee shop.
Never on public transport in Europe.
The rules are clear...take the time to read before you board.
I'm sorry the OP's daughter had to pay a fine though.

Posted by
3662 posts

The rules are clear...

Not necessarily, you can read the words, even in English, and not get the meaning. My first experience with the then new usage of "validate" used in the sense of "to activate" was when the London Docklands Light Rail just opened, before there were any buildings in Canary Wharf. Unlike other transit in London this system opened with a ticket validation concept. I printed out a ticket from the kiosk, read the warnings about "validate your ticket" and being a lifelong speaker of English where validate means to substantiate or to verify and never at all anything like stamp or cancel or activate, I just figured, "I just bought it, it must be valid." I was wrong, but so was everyone on the train, each got a lecture in turn about the requirement to validate, and no fines.

And checking my high school dictionary, "validate" did not have any usage like "to activate" as it is used now, before the mid 80s.

Posted by
3186 posts

I don't avoid train travel in the US for fear that it's unsafe-except for the locations of the terminals. I avoid them because they don't go anywhere I want to go and are subject to long delays-my daughter's train to New Orleans was 7hours late because of an accident by another carrier on the same tracks. And now my husband found out that Amtrak sold him a ticket for a route that no longer exists(that he had used several times previously) and didn't notify him.

Posted by
4667 posts

Paying fines to police directly is also something unheard of in the US. Add in the language barrier and we're alarmed.

Likewise in the UK but I acknowledge that things are done differently abroad and either do some research beforehand or accept it for what it is. Unless I'm travelling to countries where corruption amongst figures of authority is common then I'm going to accept the orders and requirements of an officer of authority so that includes pretty much all of Western Europe.

I've certainly encountered some pettiness, even experienced it amongst some former colleagues but never once considered anything a scam. The usual card games on the street, being offered a small token to look at before payment being demanded etc I've all encountered but they're obvious for what they are.

Posted by
203 posts

I will say that there is also some debate inside of Germany about how the state treats the offence for riding without a ticket--particularly the criminalisation of this offence. This debate is mostly focused on the local transportation networks, rather than the Deutsche Bahn system.

In any case, for those who speak German here and who are interested in the theme, this recent episode of the satirist Jan Böhmmerman's show might be of interest (sorry, this one is obviously only in German!)

Posted by
6639 posts

Another reason to carry some cash with you.😐

Posted by
2756 posts

That's just it, JC. Outside a few major east coast cities, most middle class Americans avoid public transportation here because they assume its unsafe. A first-responder friend of mine teaches classes to city bus drivers on reacting to violence (often armed) on board the buses, and for reason. So someone coming up to you demanding money on a train or bus, is automatically suspect. Paying fines to police directly is also something unheard of in the US. Add in the language barrier and we're alarmed.

Sorry, but this just confirms the stereotype about US citizens that first flag anything different as "impossible", then as "wrong". But never as "better"!

It's quite obvious that one can refuse to pay fines on the spot, but look at it from the point of view of a conductor who is fining an obvious foreign tourist, what happens if he doesn't get the money right away? Either the tourist will ignore the letter received via snail-mail at home or he/she will have to pay the original fine plus the international mailing costs. The only win-win situation is getting the money directly.

That's what conductors do, they sell tickets

No, they don't, it depends on the country. "Conductor" comes from the Latin verb "conducere", that means "one who leads or guides or manages things". The Italian (loose) translation is "Controllore", but it does not come from the same Latin verb. It comes from a french one meaning "to check, to control".

Side note: Quite interesting if you know Italian history, the word used to describe the guy that controls others does not come from Latin, but from French. One could assume it was something mostly done by foreign masters, our beloved cousins! I wonder if the Neapolitan word for conductor comes from Spanish. Those damned barbarians...

Posted by
6639 posts

Yes Dario, you are right. I was explaining, not excusing. Sometimes stereotypes are accurate.

Posted by
3662 posts

Outside a few major east coast cities, most middle class Americans avoid public transportation here because they assume its unsafe.

I hope this isn't true, but noting that half of the 10 US cities with the largest transit use are not in the NE. So there are large transit systems elsewhere.

https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/top-10-large-us-cities-transit-ridership/305316/

My observation is that most middle class Americans avoid public transportation because it is inconvenient. This is an interesting statistic, by income https://www.statista.com/statistics/563886/public-transit-use-household-income/ [Statista only allows one free web page visit per month.]

Posted by
4694 posts

That's just it, JC. Outside a few major east coast cities, most middle class Americans avoid public transportation here because they assume its unsafe.

Really? I think the reason most Americans don’t use public transportation is because it is either really limited or inconvenient or doesn’t even exist in their community.

Posted by
961 posts

Laura, I agree. I lived most of my life in Cincinnati, which has a cumbersome bus system and nothing else. I rarely used public transport. It wasn't until I moved to Minneapolis, which has a great light rail system, that I started using public transport instead of my car. I loved having that option! But I'm in Duluth now and back to the "no public transport" option.

With regards to the fines, Azra recently posted a link to this article on the Germany forum, which addresses Germany's new rules about paying for tickets after the fact. It does allow for some leeway at smaller train stations, or where machines are unavailable, but the penalties remain high for infractions, barring certain situations.

If there is no ticket counter and no other functioning ticket machine, then a ticket should be purchased online. Anyone who quickly buys a ticket online after departure must do so within a time limit of 10 minutes. If they don’t do so within the time limit, they will have to pay a fine. However, if the mobile connection in the train is too poor, or if the WIFI connection is disrupted, the train staff will check the situation and, in appropriate circumstances, will allow the ticket to be purchased on board.