THE number of passengers dodging fares on Croydon's tram network is on the rise, despite the introduction of heftier fines.
Figures obtained by the Advertiser from Transport for London show there was a 14 per cent increase in passengers skipping in fares in the year following the fine hike.
In 2012, when the maximum fine was upped from £40 to £80, an average of 850 people were fined every month.
In the year before, a monthly average of 745 were fined.
A London Tramlink spokesman said the increase in the number of fines could be attributed to more passengers and an increase in enforcement.
However, in a survey carried out by the Advertiser, 46 per cent of passengers admitted catching a free ride at some point.
Reasons given included the lack of regular inspections, the ease of fare evasion and the expense of public transport.
Jason Perry, Croydon Council's cabinet member for transport, said it was important people paid their way. He added: "It's very much an honesty system and people need to respect that.
"It is a very good service and I think a lot of what is good about it is the simplicity and the openness of the trams.
"If they took away that openness then it probably wouldn't be as popular a service."
Nick Baker, head of operations on London Tramlink, said extra patrols by enforcement officers meant more people were being caught out.
On just one day last month Croydon Magistrates' Court heard 44 cases of people charged with not having a valid ticket on the tram.
Mr Baker said: "We take fare evasion extremely seriously and carry out regular enforcement operations with revenue inspectors to deter people from travelling on our services without valid tickets or Oyster cards.
"There has been a rise in the number of fines issued since January 2012, partly due to the increased enforcement activity we have been carrying out.
"Passenger numbers have also increased by approximately 1.6 million during the corresponding period and it is inevitable that the number of fines issued will rise."
Passenger numbers rose year-on-year from 28.5 million between March 2011 and April 2012 to 30.1 million people between March 2012 to April 2013.
Cllr Perry said he believes the rise can be put down to the affordability of the tram, adding: "I think the Oyster Card is an efficient system and represents good value for money, so there is no excuse not to pay the fare."
Another reason given during the course of the Advertiser's survey was the lack of working ticket machines.
TfL is currently in consultation about the possibility of taking cash fares away from the capital's buses and making it Oyster-only.
But a TfL spokesman said there was no such plan to remove ticket machines from tram stops, adding: "The consultation for the buses is completely separate to London Tramlink."Your views on the issue are divided IN AN Advertiser poll of 50 tram users, 23 admitted they had dodged a fare. In total, eight said they did it regularly while 15 had only occasionally skipped the fare. The remaining 27 insisted they always paid for a ticket. These are just some of the comments from the people we spoke to: "There's almost no point – you never get inspected." "You don't always get check but it's not worth the risk. I don't fancy a court case over £1.40." "You barely ever see inspectors but I pay it anyway." "I didn't pay the first time I took the tram simply because I didn't see the oyster reader – I haven't paid ever since." "I've been caught and fined – I always pay it now. Not worth it for £1.40." "I always pay but I barely ever see an inspector. It's probably easy to get away with though." "I take the tram to Wimbledon every morning. £1.40 is not bad for a 30-minute journey so I pay." "It doesn't take much effort to touch in on your Oyster card – why fare dodge? It's cheap anyway."What passengers think Renee Da Silva, 26: "I'm not a fan of fare-dodging. "As a working person I have to pay quite a bit to travel but I do understand why some people end up in certain circumstances where they can't afford travel but for the amount I'm paying it really shouldn't happen. "There's not really a system to regulate paying passengers, so it's quite easy for people to get away with it." Geoffrey Desmond, 78: "You shouldn't do it. We're pensioners so we get it free, kids get it free. "You see quite a few inspectors but they seem to come like the buses do – you get one and then you get half a dozen on the same day. "They seem to target different routes for a particular time, such as either side of Gravel Hill station." Margaret Sutherland, 70: "It shouldn't happen – it's wrong and it makes it more expensive for the rest of us. "The cost is comparable with other transport but you don't see a lot of inspectors. There was one on my tram this morning though between Beckenham and Croydon." Phillip Kent, 61: "It's bad news – people get away with it but it's a big risk. There's quite a few inspectors about and you never know when they're going to turn up so it's a big risk and a big fine if you get caught. "For the sake of a tram fare it's not worth the risk and it's not worth the fine." Will Reddie, 21: "I've done it a couple of times – people don't pay because it's so expensive to ride the trams. People can't afford to pay for it every day and they just think they can get away with it. It's pretty hard to dodge fares on there, though, to be honest. It's much easier on the trains if you get through the barriers." Caleb Ramsey, 16: "I get to travel on the trams for free anyway, I use it to get around Croydon because it costs me nothing. If you're clever I think you can probably get away with some fare-dodging. Everyone my age gets on for free anyway but I guess some people just don't pay at all." Di Goodall, 54: "Unfortunately, it's something that everyone does, I suppose. I wouldn't dream of doing it myself but people do get away with it. There's quite a lot of inspectors around, though but people know how to cheat the system. They'll be looking around for inspectors and it's easy for them." Kiah Chong, 19: "The fares are really bad – I've got a pass so I get on for free. "People do it because the inspectors aren't around. There's no barriers, so it's not difficult. "There used to be a lot of inspectors when I was at school but you barely see any now. They'll get on at one stop then get back off – when people see them they just get off, so it's easy. People would pay the fares if they were cheaper."