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Campaign for Better Transport calls for ‘urgent action’ on Southern

Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) has called for the government to intervene in ongoing problems with the Southern rail franchise.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of CBT, wrote to rail minister Claire Perry yesterday, saying the CBT was concerned about “deteriorating passenger experience and poor service levels” on parts of Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN), all of which are operated by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).

GTR reported the worst PPM figures of any TOC in May 2016, with PPM at 78.1%, and had the worst overall PPM figures of 2015-16. This has been attributed to factors including the ongoing improvement works at London Bridge, conductor strikes and high absence rates on Southern, and rolling stock difficulties.

Lianna Etkind, public transport campaigner at CBT, said: “The Department for Transport  (DfT) must take urgent action to restore public confidence in the franchise, to ensure passengers receive greatly improved services and appropriate compensation, to enforce franchise commitments, and to agree mechanisms so performance levels do not fall to such levels again. When train operators let down passengers, it is only right that they face penalties.”

She added that it was “an outrage” that the DfT had changed the GTR franchise agreement to increase the number of agreed cancellations by a third.

The CBT said that GTR passengers need to be properly compensated for the issues, with season ticket prices frozen at current levels for a year and early introduction of the Consumer Rights Act on GTR services to allow passengers to receive compensation in the form of cash, cheque or bank transfer.

It also suggested setting higher targets for GTR on the percentage of compensation paid out, allowing passengers to make multiple refund applications on one claim, providing better information on how to claim compensation and paying automatic refunds for delays of 15 minutes or more to passengers with smart tickets.

A recent ORR report, made in response to a super complaint by Which?, found that around 80% of compensation for delays is unclaimed and said that national changes are needed to keep passengers better informed of their rights.

Calls for reforms to tackle ‘size, complexity and management’ of TSGN

In his letter, Joseph adds: “Campaign for Better Transport is also concerned that the size, complexity and management of the TSGN franchise is contributing to compromised service levels.”

He says that GTR should work with the DfT, Parliament, passenger representatives and unions to solve the problems, including ongoing industrial disputes and passenger concerns over plans to withdraw staff from some stations.

He said that in the medium term, the government should consider making franchising more flexible, with greater input from local passenger groups, authorities, LEPs and public transport bodies.

He also warns:  “In practice, running such a franchise from Whitehall as a management contract is proving highly problematic for all involved. At the heart of TSGN's current problems is that neither the operator nor Network Rail have direct accountability to passengers.”

He therefore recommends giving “serious consideration… to establishing a new franchise structure,” drawing on the examples of bodies such as Merseyrail and London Overground and the new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises to give greater local control of the aspects of the franchise.

Southern strikes set to go ahead today

The CBT letter comes as Southern services are due to undergo significant disruption today due to another conductors’ strike, led by RMT, over plans to expand the use of driver-operated only (DOO) services.

GTR said that so far this morning, 90% of Southern services into London Bridge and 87.5% of service into London Victoria had arrived on time.

It pointed to a statement from the Rail Safety and Standards Branch (RSSB) saying that there is no “increased risk” from DOO.

A GTR spokesperson said: “Passengers are bound to conclude that this strike is about nothing more than the RMT asserting their power to bring the railway to a standstill. Enough is enough, this strike should be the last.”

RMT is also leading separate strikes on ScotRail services today.

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1 To Go   21/06/2016 at 21:03

Let's not forget that it is DfT policy to increase DOO.

Lutz   23/06/2016 at 03:10

With all their focus on GTR and not NR one has to question the CBT's motives.

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