Coun Carmel Hall (Lib Dem) made the comments during a council meeting earlier this month, claiming that young people using trains have been issued £20 fines when attempting to pay for their journey at their destinations.
Northern denies targeting specific groups of customers, and claims the penalty fares are in place to target those who “persist” in travelling without paying the correct fare. It added that those who felt their fines were unfair were able to appeal.
During a full Leeds City Council meeting, Coun Hall said: “Northern introduced a penalty fare system last year which has not been even-handedly applied.
“It would appear from the evidence that I and many colleagues in this chamber are getting from young people, who are the people who will be paying for our pensions when we are in our dotage – they are presenting to buy tickets because they have been unable to do so at stations and, as well as a ticket they are getting a £20 fine. These are people who are on low incomes and vulnerable employment contracts, and that is their first working experience.
“When I did some of my own investigations at Leeds Station as to how the fares were being applied, I was told that if there was one of Northern’s versions of ‘gilets jaunes’, a penalty fare would be handed out, but if there wasn’t, it wouldn’t.
“I really think that we need some devolved power so we can scrutinise this kind of behaviour more closely.”
The “Gilets Jaunes” comment refers to the yellow vests worn by enforcement agents at Leeds City Station.
Northern is the region’s largest rail operator, running local and regional services in and out of Leeds.
Its website states that if a passenger gets on a train without a ticket or Promise to Pay notice at a station where ticket buying facilities are available, they “may be liable to pay a penalty fare”.
The penalty is the greater of £20 or twice the full single from the station where they got on the train to the next station at which the train stops.
Responding to Coun Hall’s comments, a spokesman for the company said: “Penalty fares have been introduced on some routes to target those who persist in travelling without paying the correct fare. We do not seek to apply them without reason – and certainly do not target specific groups.
“Customers travelling on routes where penalty fares are in place should be aware that, where possible, they should buy their tickets before boarding trains. As well as ticket offices and ticket vending machines, customers can also buy tickets from our website, our app and from other online retailers.
“Tickets at standard rates can be bought on-board where conductors are available, but customers should first obtain a ‘promise to pay’ voucher from a ticket vending machine.”
The spokesman added: “For those customers who feel fares have been applied unfairly, there is an independent appeals process to give our customers a means to challenge the issue of a penalty fare and submit mitigating evidence. We would always advise customers to get in contact or go through the independent appeals process if they believe they have been wrongly issued a penalty fare.”