On Monday, London's Financial Conduct Authority announced that Jonathan Paul Burrows would be banned from working in the financial services industry. The FCA, a watchdog for London's financial industry, said Burrows had "demonstrated a lack of honesty and integrity." The decision is likely to end his 20-year-long career in the city, where he most recently worked as a director at the investment management firm BlackRock.
Burrows's crime wasn't directly related to his work, however. Instead, he had been caught dodging train fares – to the tune of £42,550 ($66,000), according to British news reports. His plight intertwines two of the most controversial aspects of life in the British capital: the powerful finance industry and London's sprawling public transport system.
Burrows was caught by ticket inspectors on Nov. 19, 2013, at the exit gates of Cannon Street Station in London's City, the financial district. He was found to have not bought a valid ticket from the start of his journey from Stonegate station in East Sussex. In an interview with British Transport Police, he admitted that he had evaded his full rail fare a number of times.
The financial manager's plan for fare evasion was remarkably simple. Like many commuters into London, his journey began at a rural station without ticket barriers — he was able to board the train without buying a ticket. On arriving in London, he had to scan his ticket to exit a station. Instead, he used one of London's prepaid electronic cards, an Oyster.
These cards are not designed for out-of-town commuters such as Burrows and have a daily cap of £7.20 ($11). Thus, Burrows was able to avoid paying the full fare from Stonebridge, a rather huge £21.50 ($33). During the interview with British Transport Police, it emerged that Burrows had been using this fare-dodging tactic for about five years, fully aware that he was breaking the law. "The Authority does not consider that this is fit and proper behaviour for an approved person," the FCA said in its ruling.
London is a city built around public transportation, from the famous "Tube" to the myriad train, bus, overground and even tram lines. But it's a complicated system, hard even for Londoners to negotiate sometimes. And it's expensive. If Burrows had bought the correct ticket every workday in 2014, it would have cost him £5,439 ($8,500). Season tickets are not much cheaper.
Few Londoners like those prices, and it is likely that a fair number of them attempt to get around it. But when reports of Burrows's crime began to spread earlier this year, many were incensed that a banker was the "biggest fare dodger in history." London is one of the world's great financial centers, but there has been an increasing concern in the past decades about the divide between the international banking class and the rest of the city. Occupy London, a protest movement modeled on New York's Occupy Wall Street, sprang up in 2011.
Outrage over the banker's fare dodging didn't remain confined to left-wing activists, however. While Burrows swiftly paid his debt to avoid publicity, he became a tabloid fixation: The Daily Mail published pictures of Burrows and reported that he was earning more than £1 million a year ($1.56 million) and owned two country mansions worth many millions. "'Earns over one million a year and scams the transport system of a few thousand a year," one commuter told the right-wing newspaper. "Beggars belief how tight people can be."
Burrows's crime has already led to him parting ways with BlackRock, and now it seems unlikely that he will get another comparable job in London's financial world. On Monday, Burrows apologized again for his actions and said he respects the FCA's decision. "I recognize that the FCA has on its plate more profound wrongdoing than mine in the financial services sector, and I am sorry that my case has taken up its time at this critical juncture for the future of the City and its reputation," he said in a statement.