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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog archive > 31-Oct-05


Monday 31-Oct-05

The Revenue Protection Officers

One of the things that train companies have to contend with is people who do not pay the full fare for their travel. On the line where I travel, many stations do not have ticket barriers and there are many stations along the commuter line into London. A a surprising number of people take advantage of this, for example by buying a ticket for only one stop, having no ticket or traveling in first class on a standard class ticket.

The train company, of course, seeks to prevent this 'blagging' and uses a number of methods to dissuade offenders, from public-address announcements to the very-interestingly-named Revenue Protection Officers. These are under-cover agents who patrol trains in pairs, finding and fining offenders.

What's in a name?

What is clever is the name they call themselves: Revenue Protection Officers.

What a powerful branding. So let's look at what gives the name such impact, when they say 'Good morning sir, I'm a Southwest Trains Revenue Protection Officer', as they flip open their ID and ask for the ticket.

'Revenue' associates with Inland Revenue, that powerful and much-feared body that collects taxes for the government, sometimes known simply as 'The Revenue'. We feel guilty when we hear the name, just in case we have done something wrong.

'Protection' offers a little respite in implying safety, yet at the same time, following 'Revenue' it says that it's not you that is being protected. In fact you are framed as the antagonist who may suffer if you've got it wrong.

'Officer' associates with a policeman or policewoman, particularly with the addition of the other words.

Three little words. Powerful effect.

The action

Telling somebody that they've been caught cheating can easily lead to a fight-or-flight response. The RPOs minimize this by talking quietly and politely at all times. They explain in clear words what the offence is and what they are going to do. They listen to the response and re-assert what will happen until the offender realizes that there is no way out.

RPOs also travel in twos. As police know, this is a much safer arrangement. Bystanders may be intimidated into looking the other way, but a partner can intervene or get help. It also means that one can block the escape route whilst the other does the deed.

The reaction

What is also interesting is the reaction of people who are caught. Some hold up their hands and own up. 'It's a fair cop' they effectively say, and pay the fine. Others argue that black is white, giving all kinds of reasons why they should not pay.

Today, one person gave a false name and address. It was clear that they were lying by the small pauses between the elements of the address as they hurriedly thought up a bit more. Sadly for them, the RPO had a phone and a friend with a database who verified that nobody of that name lived at that address. Even confronted with this, the blagger was so backed into a corner, he just asserted that there must be a mistake. Only when he was confronted with the notion that lying constituted fraud and carried a penalty of ?1000 did he back down.

As he left the carriage, he sought to cover his social faux pas with loud grumbles, unsuccessfully trying to convince all within earshot that he was an innocent victim of nasty fascists. The RPO watched, politely, and moved on.

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