Monday 26 September 2016

Commuters' lives matter

I realise I risk ridicule, or worse, by using a headline like this one to describe the ongoing unravelling of Southern Rail and the other GTR rail franchises.

It isn't as if GTR are killing commuters, though they may have been putting them into dangerously overcrowded situations. But commuters' lives do matter. It matters that people can rely on the trains to get home or get to work. I know in small ways what can happen when this isn't possible - children not picked up from school or very late rendezvous with the family. Sometimes it makes business meetings completely impossible. It matters.

The situation is not as bad as it was in June, but there are still problems. Even as I write (Sunday night), I see that GTR trains are running more than ten minutes late or cancelled in 23 per cent of cases.

It seems extraordinary to me that government ministers are still blaming the unions for this when, at the moment, there is no industrial action going on. My information also suggests that sickness levels are now back to normal.

The continuing failure of transport ministers to see clearly what is happening is part of the problem. You can see this kind of defence of the indefensible whenever economic mores are about to change - there was the same when the Callaghan government defended indefensible levels of inefficiency in the 1970s, when I was at university. It is the same now.

But it really is ridiculous that the Department of Transport has responded to requests for information from the legal team representing commuters with a stonewalling silence. Whose information is it? It is about public money, after all. This is what the Association of British Commuters (ABC) have said:

"Lawyers acting for the Association have written to the DfT requesting documents to confirm whether Govia is in breach of their franchise agreement;including documents referred to in the franchise agreement, the breach notice served on Govia on 7 July 2015 (which the DfT has a clear duty to publish), and the full disclosure of February’s remedial plan by which it is possible to assess whether Govia has been compliant. None of these requests have been granted, and our only response after weeks of waiting has sought to delay further any decision to reveal these documents..."

So this is what we need to find out, and I hope everyone will ask their elected representatives to ask parliamentary questions to the minister:

1. Will they be making public the remedial plan agreed with GTR in February and the other documents requested by the ABC's lawyers?

2. Will they be making public the report by Chris Gibb's project board charged with tackling the disruption on 1 September? If not, why not?

Again, whose information is it? Or is this once again the kind of business that is stitched up behind the scenes by Department officials and Go Ahead executives? Whatever happened to the customer responsiveness of privatised services?

In fact, the real problem is deeper than that, given that the RMT has unhelpfully decided on 14 days of industrial action. It does so because it appears to believe that strikes can be effective when it seems pretty clear that it just gives ministers more of an excuse to avoid the real issues.

The legal action is a crowd-funded attempt by commuters to get action when they have no industrial muscle. They are just the poor dependent, put-upon and patronised commuters - whose lives matter, as I said.

Let's just say that the mutual loathing is so strong - I mean here between management and civil servants and unions - that it rather reminds me of the Labour Party. Both mouth the same platitudes about helping the travelling public and how the other side is letting them down.  But in the end, they hate each other so much that all they really care about is doing down the other side.

GTR management have become obsessed with trade unions, and made serious misjudgements because of that back in April - one of the reasons services have unravelled. So have rail ministers. The RMT meanwhile is obsessed with the government. Both pretend to support travellers but actually, they just can't resist bludgeoning them again. Well, what else is there to do? How else do they express their rage with each other?

It is sad, shambolic and it really makes me cross.

If it makes you cross too, there are three small things we can do about it. Read my short book Cancelled!, Support the ABC's crowdfunded legal action, and get your MP to ask those two questions in Parliament.

NOTE: To add to the peculiarly Soviet information style of the whole GTR set-up, I see that they have appointed a new chief operating officer, without any mention of what happened to Dyan Crowther, who was in that post (as far as I know) until now. Perhaps we have to wait until they have airbrushed the corporate photos...

See my book Cancelled! on the Southern Railways disaster, now on sale for £1.99 (10p goes to Railway Benefit Fund).

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1 comment:

Al said...

Dyan Crowther's future...