HOGRIDER 147 (APRIL-JUNE 2015)
This newsletter contains recent evidence-based reports, research, analysis and discussion from the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group [SHRUG]. Word and HTML versions will be posted on our website [www.shrug.info].
A recently updated 15,000 word evidence-based history of SWT which records the views of Ministers, MPs, regulatory bodies, rail experts, user groups and individual passengers over almost two decades, helping explain how the franchise has developed so disastrously for passengers, is on our website.
SWT franchise is ending
Cracks widening in Britain's fragmented railway: Overview and issues in South Hampshire
Information resources now on www.shrug.info
Twitter illustrates why belief in SWT was described before the London Assembly as being "at an all-time low" and communication as "appalling"
Random sampling of SWT's reliability on just seven days in April: 47 trains axed; 887 stops axed; 655 carriages missing;
Stagecoach shamed in the press again
Costs to commuters and employers of train operator failings
Totton: Big population abandoned by Stagecoach and Network Rail
Summer timetable revision
Over 40 fires on Stagecoach buses since January 2011
Rapacious revenue protection, but ticket vending facilities can be lacking even at major SWT stations Response on behalf of the South Hampshire Rail Users' Group to
DfT's consultation on 'Changes to the Rail Penalty Fares appeals process'
Acknowledgements / Contact details
SWT franchise is ending
There is suddenly a little hope for SWT commuters. Talks between DfT and Stagecoach to extend the current franchise (from 2017 to 2019) have broken down and there will be a competition for a new franchise, which should start in February or August 2017. It will be interesting to see how the Secretary of State's promise in the context of Richard Brown's report on franchising operates in practice. Mr McLoughlin said: "The future competitions will also place passengers in the driving seat by ensuring their view and satisfaction levels are taken into account when deciding which companies run our railway services".
This issue of our newsletter should help explain why these words are so important, especially as Stagecoach is rated by far the worst of the four operators serving southern Hampshire in terms of the value for money of its fares. Recent critics of SWT include a number of local MPs, Minister Robert Goodwill, and TfL Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy who is to become Chairman of Network Rail.
Cracks widening in Britain's fragmented railway: Overview and issues in South Hampshire
Railway policy initially appeared unaffected by the general election result and, unusually, the Secretary of State for Transport (Robert McLoughlin), and Rail Minister (Claire Perry) returned to their posts, along with Robert Goodwill who retains ministerial responsibility for HS2. A month later the reappointments were starting to look more like poisoned chalices than rewards.
It is clearer than ever that the railways suffered a huge setback when John Major decided to mend them even though they were anything but broken. Privatisation destroyed a highly successful organisation into self-interested fragments, and saw an influx of senior staff with no experience of the industry. Railtrack proved a deadly mistake and had to be returned to the public sector as Network Rail. This saw the reinstatement of high safety standards, but huge sums of money continued to be wasted by the new entity's inherited private-sector bonus culture.
BR in the Thatcher era
Conservative Transport Minister David Mitchell, who passed away last summer, saluted the achievements of BR officials, as recorded in Rail News for June 2004:
"A former Tory transport minister has paid tribute to the managers who ran British Rail during the 1980s, saying “they should look back with pride”.
David Mitchell, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s government, said they had provided attractive punctual services with 27 per cent less subsidy than they had been getting. At the same time, 24 major projects were successfully achieved and BR became the only profitable main-line railway in Europe.
Mr Mitchell said that British Rail, a run-down system in the early 1980s with low morale, was transformed after the appointment of the late Sir Robert Reid. For 1984-87, the government tasked BR with running attractive, punctual services with 25 per cent less subsidy.
“BR’s acceptance of these objectives was mocked as ‘impossible’ and could only be done by slashing quality. But those who mocked had underestimated Bob Reid and the ability of his team of professional rail management to meet the challenge,” he told a meeting of the Retired Railway Officers’ Society.
“Actually the saving on subsidy rose above 25 per cent to some 27 per cent,” said Mr Mitchell, transport minister from 1983 to 1988.
Part of his job was to approve BR investment proposals. “Twenty-four major projects were successfully achieved, including well over 1,000 miles of electrification, over 2,000 new passenger vehicles, over 190 new locomotives, and new signalling”.
Britain's railways today
The above report contrasts starkly with this extract from The Times of 26.6.2015:
"Passengers on some of the country's most congested lines face waiting years longer for crucial upgrades after ministers shelved improvements worth £2 billion. Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money could also have been wasted on plans that will never see the light of day. A tranche of projects was put on hold yesterday after it emerged that a £38.5 billion investment programme overseen by Network Rail has been ravaged by chronic cost overruns and missed targets. In a sign of the severity of the crisis, Richard Parry-Jones, Network Rail's chairman for the past three years, was replaced by Sir Peter Hendy, credited with the smooth running of London's transport during the Olympics."
.... "Work to convert lines from diesel to electric has been halted between some of Britain's biggest cities, with passengers now likely to have to wait until the next decade for the completion of the upgrades. Postponing the electrification of the Midland mainline to Bedford and the TransPennine route between Leeds and Manchester, Mr McLoughlin admitted the programme was "costing more and taking longer." Hundreds of millions of pounds had already been spent on improving the Midland line, which was projected to cost £1.3 billion."
.... "The failures will anger George Osborne, the chancellor, as they risk denting his "northern powerhouse" plan to rejuvenate the north of England. Network Rail's latest annual report set out the challenge facing Sir Peter, as the company admitted that it had missed nine out of 14 key performance targets, including the revelation that it had managed to achieve only 65 per cent of promised upgrades. The latest passenger satisfaction survey found that a fifth of the 31,000 questioned were unhappy with their service, below even the company's target."
.... "The problems are also likely to raise questions about the HS2 high-speed railway between London and Birmingham, which is projected to cost more than £40 billion."
The Guardian of the same date noted that:
"Public funds move through complex channels, and major beneficiaries include the shareholders of private companies. The significant public funds invested in trains are not just a necessary precondition for economic growth: they also help Virgin Trains and Arriva and other train operators make easy money. It is time these firms contributed to the improvements that make them rich. It might not help with the management problems at Network Rail, but at least it would be fairer to the taxpayer."
A review is promised by the autumn. Services on some existing franchises are already falling apart, yet government ambitions for a new Greater Anglia franchise, for example, imply further big infrastructure upgrades. The timescale for these is now anyone's guess. Meanwhile, road traffic is causing pollution levels considerably above legal limits in some city streets, and is believed to be responsible for thousands of premature deaths annually.
Franchise ratings and issues in South Hampshire
Our area has seen very limited infrastructure improvements in recent years. It also suffers in terms of train service development through being served by four franchises. Government emphasises that franchises are awarded to give good deals to passengers and taxpayers. The 'value for money of the price of your ticket' statistics in Transport Focus' Spring 2015 Survey are a fair measure of whether passengers get good value from each franchise. The Survey divides the national network into 83 routes.
Cross Country's services between Hampshire and Birmingham are voted 46th-best of the 83, with 48% satisfaction. On the routes north of Birmingham, those continuing to Manchester are voted 4th-best with 71% satisfaction, whilst those heading to the North East are voted joint 30th-best with 58% satisfaction.
This shows that Cross Country has the potential to be a very good railway. Note that, despite the aura of the Virgin name, the Birmingham-Manchester service is way ahead of Virgin-Stagecoach's high-frequency Euston-Manchester service, which is voted 28th best, with 59% satisfaction.
South of Birmingham, capacity problems are likely to be suppressing Cross Country's scores. North of Birmingham, frequencies are roughly double because parallel services run to and from the West of England.
The problems started when the Virgin-Stagecoach partnership operated these services and replaced the High Speed Trains with half-length Voyagers. Cross Country has ameliorated the consequent overcrowding south of Birmingham with timetable changes, but the issue is not fully resolved. With just one more train unit, the Newcastle-Southampton service could be doubled to hourly, which is the existing frequency as far south as Reading. This would ease capacity and provide good same-platform connections at Winchester with trains to and from Eastleigh, Fareham and Portsmouth.
There is no commitment to do this under the existing Cross Country franchise. Consideration was given to adding an additional coach to the Voyager trains, with electric motors to provide power on the sections of route where current is already available. This proposal was dropped and future improvements then linked to the 'Electric Spine' which would have added wiring from Southampton to Reading, and from Oxford to Coventry, providing an electric route throughout from Southampton to the Scottish lowlands. This scheme too has been shelved and could now be a decade or more away, and demand on Cross Country services to/from Hampshire in all probability will just continue growing. We must hope that fares won't soar to dampen demand.
First Great Western's long-distance services, including those between Cardiff/Great Malvern and Hampshire, are voted joint 56th-best with 43% satisfaction. This result could do with some refinement since cost is likely to be the main problem on Paddington services, and the quality and capacity of rolling stock the main problems on services through Hampshire where some very good fare offers are available, including Ranger and Rover tickets.
Current services to and from Hampshire are usually formed of three coaches and are often swamped with passengers, particularly in the Bristol area. This route is Inter City in all but name, serving Portsmouth, Southampton, Salisbury, Bath, Bristol and Cardiff. In addition, demand is healthy in the central, more rural, section. Wiltshire, exclusive of Swindon, is now administered from Trowbridge, which has also lost a major employer in recent years. Quadrupling of the interwoven Westbury-Trowbridge-Swindon service has produced four times the forecast demand.
New 4-coach trains were recently planned for the Portsmouth-Cardiff services. The plan was abandoned as 5-car units could be formed from stock released by electrification in the Thames Valley, which is already well under way. These trains have been well maintained by First Group, but have 2+3 aside seating which is unsuitable for a long-distance route. The issue now is less whether the seating will be improved than whether the electrification delays in the North will mean that the trains will be more urgently needed elsewhere.
Significantly, the former Strategic Rail Authority's Strategic Plan of January 2002 identified the need for a half-hourly service, seven days a week, between Southampton and Bristol, with an expected completion date of 2005-06.
Southern's Sussex Coast services, including those to Portsmouth and Southampton, are voted 59th-best with 41% satisfaction.
The London-Gatwick-Sussex-Hampshire services can be adversely affected by the chaotic upgrade of services on Thameslink, with which the Southern franchise will be merged from this coming August. It was planned years ago that Waterloo International should serve as an alternative terminus for some trains from the London Bridge routes during the upgrade. Presumably this was abandoned in what has proved a disastrous false economy both for London Bridge passengers and for the reputation of the railway.
Fares on Southern are often much better value than on SWT. The off-peak day return fare between Southampton and Brighton is a legacy from Stagecoach when SWT still operated into Sussex. The same fare now applies to journeys from Southampton to Eastbourne and even Hastings. There are also good-value advance 'Daysave' Ranger tickets covering the whole Southern network.
Gatwick is a major destination for passengers from Hampshire, and there are aspirations for earlier and later trains, and for the restoration of direct Sunday services between Southampton and Gatwick. A revised timetable for the merged franchise is expected from December, but indications so far suggest that there may be very little change in Hampshire. There must also be a risk of the new timetable being delayed by the London Bridge problems.
South West Trains' mainline services south of Basingstoke are voted 62nd-best with 39% satisfaction, whilst the operator's Portsmouth services are voted joint 78th-best with 31% satisfaction.
This truly dreadful result illustrates the dangers of franchising to a ruthless, profiteering operator, Stagecoach Chairman Brian Souter having stated that "ethics are not irrelevant, but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed".
Two decades have passed since the Monopolies and Mergers Commission described Stagecoach’s behaviour as “deplorable, predatory and against the public interest”; since the High Court refused to block the World in Action's programme "Cowboy Country" about Stagecoach's business practices; and since former Conservative Transport Minister Steven Norris lamented that, "If we had tried to dress privatisation in its most acceptable form, it would have been better to award it (the first SWT franchise) to almost anyone else".
It's only this year that current Transport Minister Robert Goodwill admitted that the new trains which replaced decent rolling stock on many Portsmouth and Southampton services to boost Stagecoach profits are not fit for purpose: "The minister described the class 450 carriages as "infamous", adding: "Their three plus two seating configuration can make the journey elbow to elbow for some people. As people get bigger, that will be an even greater problem. Some people with back pain cannot use those trains." [Source: Southern Daily Echo, 16.3.2015]
It's also only this year [Source: The Times, 24.4.2015] that TfL Commissioner, Sir Peter Hendy, wrote: "People hate the suburban rail service, they hate it. If you make a mistake on your Oyster card on the Tube, we'll refund it. On South West Trains, they'll fine you. That's a big philosophical difference." Quite so, advice on SWT's website: 'With the right train ticket, you will avoid being fined or prosecuted; you will be able to travel when it suits you and may save yourself money'.
Our History of SWT gives a detailed evidence-based account of what went wrong. In brief, it records, through the voices and observations of many, including Ministers and other Members of Parliament, how Stagecoach, with its founders as major shareholders, quickly undermined performance and expunged quality through stripping assets; abruptly dismissed critics in terms which avoided the truth; gained a second franchise, at huge expense to taxpayers, to clear up the mess it had created, delaying investment in capacity for a decade; and then gained a third franchise by offering an unrealistic premium; reduced or removed every remaining vestige of quality; and further boosted profits by wrong-footing and intimidating honest members of the public at every opportunity.
Passengers have been led to expect improvements in SWT's terrible performance. In April 2012 it announced an Alliance with Network Rail "with the aim of delivering better rail services in the south and south-west of England. A single senior joint management team now has responsibility for both trains and track on the route operating out of London Waterloo in a first for the UK rail industry. It is aiming to cut delays for passengers, provide better customer service, deliver more effective management of disruption, and improve the efficiency of the railway through more collaborative working and better decision-making."
This appears to have been window dressing, since an article on SWT's Passengers Panel website, dated summer 2013 and written in the familiar style of Stagecoach Director Sir Alan Greengross, stated: "The danger is the temptation by the different parties involved in running the system to, if not pass, then at least share the blame between all the others. SW Trains, Network Rail and Government can all individually suggest they’d love to help solve an issue but unfortunately it’s impossible without the other two changing how they work, which anyway would not be doable under the current franchise agreement."
The Alliance is now to be abandoned in any meaningful form because it simply hasn't delivered anything like an acceptable level of reliability and commuters despair daily as infrastructure and trains fail, often in tandem; stops are axed and services curtailed, which is operationally convenient but exacerbates overcrowding on other services and makes hundreds late for work unnecessarily; passengers are fined, intimidated, and even reduced to tears despite problems in obtaining tickets; and the programme for additional carriages to replace the 120 Wessex Electric vehicles, which were taken off lease to increase profit, is running a year late, leading to acute problems such as short trains without toilet facilities operating on medium-distance routes.
Only the excuses have improved - everything is purportedly worn out and challenging to operate, and ad hoc operational considerations must always take priority over running the advertised service. Full-length trains have to miss stops to keep services running; short-length trains have to miss stops to avoid dangerous overcrowding. [Source: Twitter]
The joint control at Waterloo will continue, so operational considerations will remain paramount, however many hundreds of stops are omitted. SWT will presumably receive more money from fines imposed on Network Rail for infrastructure failures but will doubtless use this, in the customary fashion, to boost profits rather than to compensate passengers.
What will now be the timescale for desperately needed enhancements to relieve pressures and unreliability on Stagecoach's run down railway, such as the Woking flyover and Crossrail 2?
Why it's time to reconsider franchising
The Conservatives have shown no wish to progress much beyond the current system of franchising, which the Commons Transport Committee, in two major reports, considered a costly failure from the outset. Few seriously expect BR to come back in its old form, but some kind of non-profit-making national rail body which avoided the current huge revenue extraction by shareholders, promoted the best standards in all areas of activity, and maximised economies in procurement surely merits consideration.
Unfortunately, privatisation has created its own mythology:
(1) It is responsible for passenger growth. Untrue; comparable increases have been achieved by the Northern Ireland network, which remains in the public sector.
(2) It has led to huge investment. Untrue; most of the investment has come from passengers and other taxpayers, in many cases through Network Rail.
(3) It has produced a more modern and reliable railway. Unfair/untrue ; BR moved the network from steam to diesel and electric, and would undoubtedly have progressed modernisation over recent decades, as have most railways across the world. Reliability remains appalling in areas such as the SWT network.
(4) It has introduced competition to ensure passengers and taxpayers get the best deal. Risible; the first SWT franchise went to Stagecoach, a fiercely anti-competitive company which had been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission more times than any other British firm. Its short second franchise was granted to sort out the mess created by its profiteering, and cost taxpayers vast amounts.
Stagecoach now owns 100% of the South West Trains and East Midlands franchises, 49% of the Virgin West Coast franchise, and 90% of the Virgin East Coast franchise, and wants more. Mr Souter and his sister are jointly worth £1 billion. The more money they squeeze out of one franchise at the expense of passengers, the more they can offer to beat rivals for another franchise. So the overall quality of rail services declines.
The franchise ownership includes a big majority stake in the inter-city trains from Euston, St Pancras and King's Cross to the Midlands, North and Scotland. Could this near-monopoly be one reason for Stagecoach's East Coast franchise being branded as 'Virgin Trains', despite Virgin's nominal 10% share, and how much extra will passengers pay to cover Stagecoach's bill for using the Virgin brand?
Alliance Rail has applied to run a competing hourly service between Kings Cross, Newcastle and Edinburgh. Operators of such Open Access arrangements invariably achieve the highest ratings in PassengerFocus' official satisfaction scores. Alliance's proposals include the fastest journeys ever over the route, effectively advancing the benefits of HS2; a range of seating and prices to cater for varied passenger needs; passengers allowed to board early at terminals, with trains effectively doubling as station waiting rooms; and on-board ticket sales without penalty (which in itself can produce a worthwhile reduction in door-to-door journey times for passengers). Alliance is a professional operator, with links through to Arriva and DB.
That's exactly the kind of thing former Conservative Secretary of State Brian Mawhinney appeared to offer when he said he wanted the privatised railways to emulate the Sainsburys of this world in their responsiveness to passengers' changing needs. So Ministers are delighted by Alliance Rail's proposals? No, they're reportedly mounting robust objections on the basis that the Alliance would extract revenue from Stagecoach/Virgin. Financial mechanisms for cushioning franchise operators mean that the loss would be offset against Stagecoach's premium payments to government.
The government's position on this seems completely illogical. HS2 will inevitably extract custom from traditional East Coast services to Leeds, so why would that be OK when it's not OK for Alliance Rail to take custom from traditional services to Newcastle and Edinburgh?
Meanwhile, Stagecoach wants a 40% share in the Greater Anglia franchise, where a key objective will be a significant reduction in journey times between London and Norwich. Passengers are already expressing concerns that this should not lead to any station getting a worse service. They are right to do so. Stagecoach committed to a faster Weymouth-London service under its current SWT franchise. It speeded that journey by three minutes, while services were ripped apart at other stations.
Stagecoach was keen to take over National Express when it ran the Greater Anglia as well as C2C, Mr Souter noting that there was value to be released (profits to be grabbed). As our History of SWT shows, the Stagecoach founders have benefited so much from reinvesting profits made from public funds (nine-figure dividend payments after the second franchise settlement) in private portfolios that they can use their billion pounds to do pretty well what they like, whether it's buying a couple of castles, expelling an elderly couple from their home to facilitate a lucrative redevelopment, buying Manston airport for £1 and selling it for £24 million, or progressing the break-up of the United Kingdom by becoming the Scottish Nationalist Party's major donor.
Information resources now on www.shrug.info
The following new and updated papers are now available as stand-alone items on our website:
Group's updated History of South West Trains under Stagecoach
With over 170 source references, this records, through the voices and observations of many, including Ministers and other Members of Parliament, how ethically-limited Stagecoach, with its founders as major shareholders, quickly undermined performance and expunged quality through stripping assets; abruptly dismissed critics in terms which avoided the truth; gained a second franchise, at huge expense to taxpayers, to clear up the mess it had created, delaying investment in capacity for a decade; and then gained a third franchise by offering an unrealistic premium; reduced or removed every remaining vestige of quality; and further boosted profits by wrong-footing and intimidating honest members of the public at every opportunity.
Group's response to Network Rail's Wessex Route Study
This focuses on issues around handling traffic flows from Wessex in the London area; infrastructure and capacity issues between Basingstoke and Reading, and in the Portsmouth and Southampton areas; and the need for illustrative timetables to show the overall effects for passengers of timetable options.
Group's response to the Department for Transport's consultation on the Rail Penalty Fares Appeals Process [We have not previously published this document in any form, and it is therefore included in this newsletter as well as on our website.]
Historical outline paper on the development of diesel and electric train services from Southampton
This illustrates how passengers' widely-held preference for journeys avoiding a change of trains was gradually met by service development, and how many of the gains were reversed in the course of franchise reshaping.
Twitter illustrates why belief in SWT was described before the London Assembly as being "at an all-time low" and communication as "appalling"
SWT’s Twitter scripts provide information, apologise endlessly, and refer people to Customer Services who, if they are lucky, will send an often unhelpful reply weeks later. Passengers hate the rip-offs, problems with trains and stations, information deficit and errors, cancelled stops, not getting replies from Customer Services, and the rudeness and aggression of some members of staff. Disabled people may be refused assistance or even told to seek help from other passengers. It must all be pretty depressing for decent members of staff as well. What is particularly noticeable on Twitter is the virtual absence of any promise to improve the treatment of passengers. The standard reply to the more serious complaints is that they will be looked into. Then the same sort of thing happens again. This is because there is no middle management to tackle the chaos in a holistic way.
We have collected a substantial range of complaints for the April-June 2015 quarter. Some of the issues raised are below. These just scrape the surface, as there are reckoned to be well over 50,000 negative tweets to SWT annually [Source: RAIL Issue 776], but hopefully they give a flavour of SWT's disastrous performance.
* Innumerable complaints about delays and unhelpful replies.
* Passenger who left a phone on a train a fortnight earlier still not given a date when it would be available for collection.
* Passenger who was overcharged still awaiting a reply after 59 days.
* Passenger spent 13 minutes on hold and still got no reply.
* Passenger was told a manager was looking into his complaint but still awaiting a reply six weeks later.
* Long delay in trying to find out why a guard closed the doors on a passenger.
* Passenger couldn't elicit a response after SWT's failure cost him £150 for a flight and connections.
* Passenger who tried to get a refund found staff unwilling to help, was repeatedly transferred and given e'mail addresses which didn't work. Had currently been on hold for 20 minutes, after two e'mails and three previous calls.
* Passenger phoned customer service twice as tickets not delivered. They confirmed address updated but tickets still sent to old address. [SWT's response (sic): I have spoken to our customer services team. It sounds as though tickets have been sent to your original address and cannot be reissued. If you are not able to collect them you will need to buy new tickets for travel. Please keep these and submit them to our customer service team with as much detail as you can. They may be able to issue a refund on your original ticket depending on the circumstances and what has happened to the original tickets. I hope this helps you.]
* Various general complaints about disgusting service.
* Guard forgot to get passenger off, and not for the first time.
* A passenger who appeared to have a learning disability was shouted at rudely for asking about topping up.
* A blind man who needed help at Waterloo was simply pointed towards the Tube, even though barrier staff had the means to call for assistance.
* Travel refused because too far for guard to walk to get wheelchair ramp.
* Wheelchair users publicly blamed for late running of a Portsmouth train.
* Innumerable complaints about endemic failures.
* Passengers at Havant not told their train was terminating.
* Service moved from platform 1 to platform 18 at Waterloo without notice, so everyone missed it.
* Passengers left behind after being told train would be diverted; it then ran as scheduled.
* Clapham Junction stop axed and passengers told another train was right behind; it wasn't.
* Passenger missed train after twice being given wrong platform number at Waterloo.
* Passenger told to alight at Winchester for a faster Waterloo train; there wasn't one.
* Departure platform changed on the board at Waterloo; late information meant train departed before passengers could get to it.
* Passengers at Woking told to board a train for Guildford which wasn't going there.
* Shocking communication at Fareham about problems at train depot miles away. [SWT's response: Sorry for the confusion. The disruption caused a backlog at the depot, so we had to wait to know which trains could come out.]
* Passengers missed train at Barnes because of last-minute platform change. [SWT's response (sic): I'm sorry that happened. We don't have platform change announcements at Barnes.]
* Train terminated at Guildford without information about alternative services.
* Passenger delayed 45 minutes at Clapham Junction through wrong advice.
* Guard sent passenger to wrong destination.
* Three trains in a row cancelled at Christchurch and no information.
* Information seriously lacking at Hedge End.
* Train disappeared from information board, having departed three minutes early.
* Diverted train advertised to call between Southampton and Fareham but guard said it wouldn't.
* Passengers delayed 30 minutes at Ashford because of error on information board.
* Dorchester unstaffed and without trains. Passenger had to get information from a taxi company.
* Train shown as running but didn't turn up. Passenger couldn't get information so caught a bus.
[SWT advert on Twitter: "Are you creative, dynamic and ambitious? If so, we need you to be our next Information Team Leader".]
* Train diverted to platform that was too short.
* Passengers had to change at Salisbury because train running out of fuel.
* Passengers delayed half an hour because train cancelled through rostering error.
* Omission of Clapham Junction stop announced in mid-journey.
* A Winchester-Waterloo train cancelled twice in three days.
* Train stopped and doors opened but passengers, including those with first class tickets, not allowed to board because of overcrowding.
* Train from Haslemere departed two minutes early.
* Many stranded when Bournemouth train left Clapham Junction four minutes early. [SWT's response: Really sorry about this- we are aware the train left early and are investigating this.]
* Windsor train left Twickenham two minutes early.
* Fifty passengers left behind when stops cancelled because an evening peak Reading-Waterloo service started two minutes late. [SWT's response (sic): Customer service is the priority. If we let the train run delayed it would affect more trains and so ultimately more customers.]
* Passenger told a train would make a testing stop (after disruption) at his destination after disruption. It didn't and he was an hour late for work.
* Train was announced at New Malden and then ran straight through.
* Train to Weybridge cancelled; next one late and connection not held.
* Wokingham-Reading train departed early.
* Service via Wimbledon was suddenly diverted at Strawberry Hill.
* Train left Wandsworth Town two minutes early.
* Cancellations left half hour gap in New Malden-Waterloo service; passenger missed meeting.
* Train ran straight through Raynes Park with no prior announcement.
* Passenger about to board as doors shut and train left two minutes early. [SWT's response: I've checked and the 17:46 did leave 2 minutes early. Sorry for the extra wait you have, I'll pass this on to be looked into.]
* Lymington service left Brockenhurst just as train from Waterloo arriving.
* Waterloo train left Kingston 2 minutes early, so passenger got bus. [SWT's response: Apologies for this - I will pass this on to be investigated.]
* Chertsey line connections at Weybridge routinely not held, even for a few seconds.
* Several hundred people dumped when Waterloo train terminated at Woking though running only 11 minutes late. Meetings missed, including one man's 09.00 interview with his boss to explain why he can't work in London any more because of all SWT's train failures.
* Crammed train cancelled despite preceding train already having been cancelled.
* Train left Haslemere 4 minutes early, leaving schoolchildren behind. Person had to drive his son to school.
* Person late for work because his stop cancelled when train only two minutes late.
* Train from Hampton left 3 minutes early, delaying passengers for 30 minutes.
* Half-empty Shepperton train missed Vauxhall because staff said it was full.
* Sixty-four year old woman stranded at Epsom for an hour late at night because Waterloo train cancelled with no information.
* Waterloo service left Strawberry Hill 2 minutes early.
* Stop cancelled because train 10 minutes late; passenger had to get a taxi to hospital.
* Passenger's morning and evening Leatherhead trains both cancelled.
* Passenger arrived more than 30 seconds before departure, guard shrugged his shoulders, and train departed.
* Last service of the day was reduced to 4 carriages and people were left behind.
* More than fifty people stranded in high temperature because a train missed its Horsley and Clandon stops.
* Train terminated at Woking, and passengers told to go to another train but doors weren't open. The elderly and those with cases were left behind as the guard wouldn't wait.
* Ticket machine at Wimbledon was selling nothing cheaper than a £15 special offer ticket.
* Passengers who drove from Winchester to Basingstoke to avoid engineering works had to pay again for station parking.
* Guard said staff had been told not to accept railcards when passengers need to buy ticket on train.
* Passenger who got a lift from Aldershot to Woking because his train was cancelled was refused a refund on the grounds that he should have requested a taxi.
* Passenger who missed a football match because of chaos on SWT requested compensation. [SWT's response: Our compensation arrangements don't include additional costs.]
* A passenger with a valid ticket from Sherborne to Waterloo wasn't allowed to start the journey at Salisbury.
* Car park machines at Guildford charging £9.50 instead of the £5 bank holiday rate.
* Passenger who lost ticket fifteen minutes after purchase was refused duplicate.
* Passenger who had just moved home thought he could use his Oyster Card to Weybridge but received a penalty fare. * Passenger whose train was late boarded the wrong service and was charged £40.
* Passenger who lost return half of a £12 ticket was charged £16 for a replacement.
* Passenger asked why ticket machines at Wokingham always advertise the most expensive travelcards first. [SWT's response: It's not intentional (sic), it's like this on all machines and you can find a cheaper ticket if you keep going through the selections.]
* Claygate station unstaffed and machine not accepting cards. Non-commercial guard on train so passenger still couldn't buy ticket. Bought ticket at Clapham Junction and was charged £8.30 instead of £6.70. [SWT's response: I don't have the answer I'm afraid, the standard fare is £6.70. I would advise you to clarify with Customer Relations.]
* Gates at Kingston not accepting contactless cards. Passenger had to buy ticket and was refused a refund despite keeping the receipt.
* Passenger had to get to work on time. Waited in ticket machine queue for 15 minutes before boarding train but received a penalty fare.
* Passenger couldn't find guard to buy ticket because of overcrowding and was charged a penalty fare at Waterloo.
* Booking office printed ticket with wrong date. Passenger made to pay again.
* Ticket machine out of order and passenger was refused a super off-peak ticket by the train guard. [SWT's response (sic): You are advised to purchase a ticket before you board the train. If you don't have one the Guard reserves the right to vend an appropriate ticket or even a penalty fare, depending on the situation.]
Replacement buses and taxis
* Passenger had 35-minute walk after being refused entry to bus with a pram.
* Passengers had to wait 30 minutes for a replacement bus at Ewell West.
* Bus left late; passengers just in time to see train depart.
* Train connection missed at Haslemere because bus driver got lost.
* Passengers left waiting for bus at Haslemere after midnight.
* Bus missed a station and SWT tried to bluff it out.
* Bus driver thought Fratton station was near The Hard Interchange at Portsmouth Harbour.
* Innumerable complaints about unhelpful, rude, condescending, humiliating and aggressive staff.
* Passengers had been told the 17.07 train from Romsey is always declassified and regularly sat in first class. One guard rubbished this and was so rude and verbally aggressive to them that another passenger stepped in. They were threatened with having their Gold Cards taken away.
* Station staff refused information to passenger with two children until they pressed the Helpline button.
* Guard closed door of Chessington train in passenger's face.
* Girl left sobbing at Waterloo after staff refused to sell her ticket on concourse and there was a huge ticket office queue.
* Supervisor at Richmond intolerably rude.
* Staff on Aldershot station gates leered at passenger and told her to "mind they don't fall out".
* Guard was abusive to passenger's 5-year-old daughter.
* Passenger who used machine at Syon Lane to check his usage for travel expense purposes was cornered, badgered and accused of fare dodging before he was allowed to explain his action.
* Staff rude and aggressive because passenger's railcard had expired, and he was thrown off the train because Visa was not accepted. [SWT's response (sic): I appreciate your feelings, however you were travelling without a valid ticket so these actions are correct.]
* Passenger drives to Bournemouth for train because staff at Christchurch so rude.
* Ticket windows all closed at Weybridge, yet five ticket inspectors loitering in the corridor.
* Nine staff checking tickets on two station entrances. Three just talking on their phones.
* Driver of Hounslow-Waterloo train having animated personal call on his mobile.
* Passenger missed train at Havant because one person serving multiple customers and talking excessively.
* Guard very rude and impatient because customer rummaging in bag for ticket he had checked earlier.
* Staff shouted at top of voice for driver to move car from pick-up point when he was meeting his partner even though there were no other cars around.
* Staff wanted passengers to wait for the next train, followed a passenger who had boarded, and were insensitive, patronising, rude and aggressive.
* Staff insinuated passenger was fare dodging even though he had a valid travelcard.
* Guard was foul to passenger watching a 3-second video on Facebook which he thought was too loud.
* Passenger late for meeting because his £40 ticket wasn't working the gates and staff refused to help him.
* Passenger suffered sexual harassment by member of staff.
* Staff locked train door, a full minute before departure time, when passenger trying to board.
* Passenger asked platform controller at Wimbledon if train going to Kingston and was told to move out of the way.
* Guard tried to confiscate drink (iced tea) from passenger making a 2-minute journey from Swaythling to Southampton Airport, and then just laughed at him.
* Passenger missed train at Woking because doors locked 3 minutes early and staff continued chatting and refused to listen to him.
* Staff member at Godalming repeatedly offensive.
* Weymouth train left Clapham Junction over 2 minutes early and guard shouted at people from the moving train. [SWT's response: I'm very sorry. We're aware of this and are looking into it.]
* Passenger hassled by SWT staff and BTP and treated like fare dodger when trying to buy ticket.
* 70-year old woman thrown off Petersfield train for not having proof of identity (needed for Megatrain tickets).
* Staff at Bournemouth notorious for their verbal abuse.
* Staff started to make prodding gestures in passengers face. Family in shock.
* Passenger had to be helped by others as guard closed doors on his 2-month old son's pram.
* Guard shut doors on man and pregnant woman, saying it was their fault for being too slow.
* Ticket vending staff on platform at Waterloo act in an accusing and aggressive manner.
* Staff screamed 'hurry up' to pregnant woman trying to board train with a buggy.
* Staff very unpleasant when refusing to accept Lloyds TSB card, saying only Barclays accepted.
* Guard laughed while shutting doors in people's faces.
* Ticket staff at Waterloo very rude when unable to find sleeper fare.
* Passenger asked member of staff at Waterloo why Guildford train late and he just walked off.
* Passenger has repeatedly complained about rude member of staff at Surbiton.
* Passenger got stuck in barrier at Woking. Staff member laughed and swore at him.
* Station staff fixing ticket machine when next train due, despite twenty minute service gaps.
* Staff rude and walked off when an Oyster reader not working.
* Staff rudely ignored passengers at Ascot and walked away.
* Passenger lost his ticket and was threatened with arrest. His driver's licence was broken in the incident.
* Passenger's son ordered an open return ticket but a day ticket issued. When he spoke to a member of staff they just laughed at him.
* Display board at Guildford station, platform 5, erroneously displaying 'Not Working'.
* Farnborough Main station unstaffed. Door still broken and wide gate blocked. Passengers had to lift pram over.
* Passengers delayed an hour because only one of three parking ticket machines in use, and they needed a Groupsave ticket but the booking office was closed.
* Toilets at Norbiton, Richmond and Southampton Central
stations in a shocking state.
* Lift failed at Earlsfield when station unstaffed. It started to descend and then stopped, and the doors opened. Passenger had to lift up pram to escape.
* Only one of 3 parking ticket machines working and it took an age to get an actual ticket.
* Disgraceful that station toilets are closed on Sundays.
* Syon Lane westbound platform is insecure at one end.
* Toilets at Clandon permanently broken.
* There is 30 second difference between concourse clocks and platform clocks at Waterloo and trains are leaving early. [SWT's response (sic): We're aware of this and are treating it as high priority to resolve.]
* Position where guards stand en masse at Whitton to check tickets is unsafe and causes overcrowding.
* When trains are disrupted and there's risk of change of platform, the gates to platform 5 and 6 at Vauxhall need to be left unlocked.
Ticket offices and machines
* Ticket machines advertising promotional fares which have ended. One passenger tried to buy one from all the machines at Andover.
* Sholing ticket machine withheld £4 change.
* Feniton ticket machine not accepting cards.
* Addlestone ticket machine fails repeatedly.
* Ticket machines don't sell tickets for journeys starting from other stations.
* Booking office at Walton-on-Thames closed during opening hours. Passenger visited twice and would now have to queue for ticket in the morning rush.
* Train cancelled. Passenger raced to another station, was sold the wrong ticket and admonished at Waterloo.
* Passenger missed train because only one window open at Guildford. Vendor was very rude.
* Booking office printed ticket with wrong date. Passenger made to pay again.
* Ticket machine left to run out of tickets.
* Passenger tried to buy ticket at Farnham to avoid the rush next morning and found the only ticket machine was out of order.
* Ticket offices shut during opening hours at Cosham and West Byfleet.
* Machine wouldn't sell off-peak ticket when off-peak valid. [SWT's response: Our ticket machines are designed to ensure that off peak tickets are not sold before they are valid. I'll pass this on.]
* For about two months magnetic strips on tickets from Sholing machine not working.
* Passenger missed train while establishing that both ticket machines on station had jammed coins.
* Three out of four ticket machines out of use at Teddington, and no sign of staff. A dozen people complaining.
* Passenger was sold a ticket which was invalid for his chosen train.
* Innumerable complaints about unsuitable stock, short trains, filthy or non-existent toilets, failed or non-existent air conditioning, and rules about carriage of bikes ignored.
* Passenger had to stand on a journey of over 3 hours.
* Passengers stranded for an hour because train overcrowded.
* Passengers late for work because train door faulty and guard didn't wait for them to reach another door.
* Both toilets out of order and 4-year-old child desperate.
* Tables, wifi, buffet and comfort missing from a Waterloo-Poole train. [SWT's response (sic): Yes, this was one of our blue 450 stock trains.]
* Heating on in heatwave.
* Two morning trains permanently reduced from 5 to 4 coaches since timetable change.
* 13.20 Weymouth-Waterloo filthy and stinking, even in first class.
* No toilets on a Weymouth-Waterloo service.
* Passengers forced to relieve themselves on train from Twickenham and others feeling sick. Guard shrugged and said they could get off if they couldn't stand it.
* Train packed solid but guard wouldn't let people use space in first class.
* People close to fainting because of bad conditions. Packed half-length train with no air conditioning or opening windows.
* Passengers sweating because air conditioning not working on a packed train in summer. [SWT's response (sic): It probably is working, just you're not feeling the full benefit as it can't cope with the high volume of passengers.]
* Four coach trains which run on Saturdays are always overcrowded.
* Passenger in right part of train with bike but was carried past Clapham Junction as doors not opened.
* Next stop cancelled seconds after train doors closed. [SWT's response (sic): At times some decisions are made last minute, sorry for the lack of notice this time.]
* Passenger on wrong train because incorrect information given at Waterloo. [SWT's response (sic): Apologies for this. There can be last minute platform alterations and staff are unable to pass the relevant information.]
* Stops including Putney cancelled after train left Richmond. Announcement then told passengers for these stops that they were screwed. [SWT's response (sic): I'm afraid after an incident, we need to alter trains at short notice in order to recover the service as quickly as possible.]
* Train ran fast through Wimbledon with no notice. [SWT's response (sic): Some trains have been altered this evening. There should have been an announcement on the train. Sorry you did not hear this.]
* Passengers trapped on train at Wimbledon because doors couldn't be opened after guard left behind at Clapham Junction.
* Train failed to stop at Fleet, and no explanation from the guard. [SWT's response: Apologies for the late reply. We are currently investigating this incident.]
* Train failed to stop at Woking.
* Train made its Clapham Junction stop but doors not opened. [SWT's response (sic): The train may have stopped at a red signal but doors not released so that it could move off as soon as possible.]
* Guard forgot to open doors at Wraysbury. Passenger incurred a dentist's fee for being late.
* Passengers trapped as doors did not open at Feltham. [SWT's response (sic): The guard must have made announcements for customers to move into carriages that would open throughout the journey.]
* Guard announced train running normally after disruption, but it missed all its stops.
* Passengers stranded when Guildford train diverted to Hampton Court without announcement.
* Screens at Wimbledon failed to show that all intermediate stops cancelled, so passengers carried to Waterloo. [SWT's response (sic): I'm sorry for that, we have only just been advised that was the case and changed the platform screens ASAP.]
* Train delayed at Fratton and passengers not allowed to alight to get connections or make other arrangements.
* People in four carriages of a train trapped at Chessington North when doors failed to open.
* Train failed to stop at Totton and passenger carried to Brockenhurst.
* Passengers told at a station that train was being diverted, but were not allowed to alight.
Tweet the Manager session
* [Comments from various tweeters] They've gone very quiet. Still a minute to go. [SWT's response: We have a finite resource of staff members to answer questions in a set time.] Is that why you didn't bother to respond to most questions? Looking through the feed, questions are being selectively answered, this one in particular has been a waste of time. People are being ignored and valid questions, when answered, are just the same old PR spiel. Are you for real? You really are so out of touch. There is no engagement, no answers, just excuses. People are fed up.
Tweets which summarise SWT
* Despicable provision of service. How on earth can this EVER be justified? This is 2015. Where are the staff?
* Why do you always sacrifice passengers for punctuality? Once again train is missing stops to be on time.
* Upgrade your rolling stock! I'm sick and tired of spending a fortune to sit in over-heated, overcrowded faulty trains.
* What is the logic of a train closing its doors in order to leave on time and then leave 30 seconds early? [SWT response: The train may depart once the doors have been closed.]
* Honestly wish I didn't have to use you for travel and commuting. Your management need to sort it out. Consistently poor, and bad value.
* Shocking service as always!
* Once again an absolute shambles. Are you ever going to do something about your shoddy service?
* Prioritise replying to customers who've asked a direct question, rather than focusing on posting trivial tweets. * Time to send staff on rudimentary customer service skills courses.
* The issues are always the same and always your own making.
* What do I need to do to get my season ticket refunded. This service is shocking!
* Has anyone ever told you your refund policy is a complete and utter joke??
* There really aren't enough characters on Twitter to elaborate how bad it was! Have you not got a number I can call?
* I wish I had a pound for every apology I hear from SWT. I wouldn't have to play Euromillons.
* You have that Friday feeling but SWT is late and you miss your connection by seconds.
* Literally every single journey I've made in the last 6 weeks has been disrupted. I can't believe you're still in business!
* Worst train day ever. If you need me I'm the girl crying on platform 2 at Strawberry Hill.
* The sooner TfL takes over the suburban routes the better.
* First Great Western saves the day once again; SWT leaves us stranded. Terrible customer service. Thanks very much to FGW though!
* What's SWT CEO's contact details? Everyone vents at the poor people on social media when it's the bigwigs causing it. [SWT response: If you wish to make a complaint you can contact our customer service team.] I've had enough of complaining there. All complaints are shrugged off. You ignore the voice of your customers.
Random sampling of SWT's reliability on just seven days in April: 47 trains axed; 887 stops axed; 655 carriages missing
TRAINS AXED: 07.42 Reading-Waterloo. 16.44 Southampton-Portsmouth. 18.23 Waterloo-Basingstoke. 18.37 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo.
NUMBERS OF STOPS AXED: 07.15 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo 3. 07.22/09.21 Raynes Park-Waterloo 2+2. 07.24 Reading-Waterloo 4. 07.33/17.03 Weybridge-Waterloo 4+19. 07.53 Windsor-Waterloo 8. 07.58 Waterloo-Windsor 3. 08.02 Woking-Waterloo 1. 08.07 Twickenham-Waterloo 1. 08.45 Waterloo-Portsmouth 4. 09.07 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo 10. 13.15/15.59 Portsmouth-Waterloo 1+10. 13.39 Haslemere-Waterloo 2. 15.22 Waterloo-Weybridge 8. 17.10 Shepperton-Waterloo 8. 21.10 Weymouth-Waterloo 1.
NUMBERS OF CARRIAGES MISSING: 07.15/12.07/13.45/20.15 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo 5+5+5+2. 08.36/16.37 Guildford-Waterloo 4+4. 08.52 Waterloo-Weybridge 5. 09.46/17.46 Waterloo-Chessington 4+4. 10.33 Weybridge-Waterloo 5. 10.39/18.39 Chessington-Waterloo 4+4. 11.24/19.24/23.09 Waterloo-Dorking 4+4+4. 12.35/20.35 Dorking-Waterloo 4+4. 13.36/21.36 Waterloo-Hampton Court 4+4. 14.15 Waterloo-Haslemere 4. 14.24/22.24 Hampton Court-Waterloo 4+4. 15.09/17.02 Waterloo-Guildford 4+4. 15.37 Haslemere-Waterloo 4. 16.05/19.20/22.50 Waterloo-Reading 4+4+4. 17.42 Reading-Waterloo 4. 19.02 Waterloo-Woking 4. 23.33 Weybridge-Staines 2.
[Trains axed: 4] [Stops axed: 91] [Carriages missing: 125]
TRAINS AXED: 06.15 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo. 06.23/08.33 Portsmouth-Southampton. 06.42 Hilsea-Waterloo. 06.42/06.50/07.13/07.29/07.45/08.15/20.15 Portsmouth-Waterloo. 07.02 Eastleigh-Portsmouth. 07.17 Southampton-Portsmouth. 08.30/09.00/09.45/12.00/17.30/22.30 Waterloo-Portsmouth. 10.39 Haslemere-Waterloo. 17.45 Waterloo-Havant.
NUMBERS OF STOPS AXED: 00.42 Waterloo-Strawberry Hill 4. 01.05 Waterloo-Southampton 2. 07.22/09.21 Raynes Park-Waterloo 2+2. 05.00/08.45/07.15/09.00/13.00/15.45/16.30/16.45 /17.00/18.45/19.45 Waterloo-Portsmouth 7+2+10+5+2+11+4+15+5+2+2. 06.03/06.45/07.15 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo 12+5+3. 06.12/08.05/10.05 Waterloo-Weymouth 5+2+5. 06.15/06.23/06.55/07.24/07.29/07.55/08.15/08.24/09.45/09.59/11.59/16.24/16.45/17.15/17.19 /17.45/18.45 Portsmouth-Waterloo 6+1+5+9+11+6+3+4+1+2+2+11+11+4+11+8+6. 06.19 Woking-Portsmouth 6. 06.20 Waterloo-Reading 2. 06.21 Southampton-Portsmouth 2. 06.33/07.27/07.33 Waterloo-Kingston-Waterloo 4+8+5. 07.38 Portsmouth-Southampton 3. 07.37 Twickenham-Waterloo 7. 07.38 Southampton-Waterloo 5. 08.05 Portsmouth-Basingstoke 9. 10.15 Waterloo-Haslemere 3. 17.15 Waterloo-Fratton 13. 19.02 Woking-Waterloo 4. 20.03 Waterloo-Guildford 4. 22.28 Portsmouth-Havant 2.
NUMBERS OF CARRIAGES MISSING: 06.28 Aldershot-Waterloo 4. 08.07/14.50/17.50/18.20/ 21.20 Waterloo-Reading 4+4+4+4+4. 08.36/16.37 Guildford-Waterloo 4+4. 09.30 Waterloo-Portsmouth 7. 09.42/13.12/16.42/19.42 Reading-Waterloo 4+4+4+4. 09.46/17.46 Waterloo-Chessington 4+4. 10.39/18.39 Chessington-Waterloo 4+4. 13.36/21.36 Waterloo-Hampton Court 4+4. 14.24/22.24 Hampton Court-Waterloo 4+4 15.09 Waterloo-Guildford 4. 15.54 Havant-Waterloo 5. 17.45 Waterloo-Havant 5. 19.24/23.09 Waterloo-Dorking 4+4. 20.35 Dorking-Waterloo 4.
[Trains axed (cumulative): 25] [Stops axed (cumulative): 376] [Carriages missing (cumulative): 238]
TRAINS AXED: 17.15/18.07/18.15/18.37/19.37 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo. 17.31 Waterloo-Kingston-Waterloo. 18.43 Waterloo-Shepperton. 18.52 Reading-Staines. 18.56 Salisbury-Romsey. 20.07 Romsey-Salisbury.
NUMBERS OF STOPS AXED: 07.22/09.21 Raynes Park-Waterloo 2+2. 07.35/08.05 Waterloo-Weymouth 5+5. 08.03/09.27/16.57/17.01/17.27/ 17.57/18.01/18.31/19.33 Waterloo-Kingston-Waterloo 9+8+11+21+17+12+11+11+11. 08.15 Waterloo-Haslemere 8. 08.30/09.00 Waterloo-Portsmouth 1+2. 08.33 Waterloo-Guildford 4. 08.35 Waterloo-Weymouth 2. 08.39 Waterloo-Poole 1. 08.53 Waterloo-Alton 3. 08.54 Basingstoke-Waterloo 2. 10.33 Portsmouth-Southampton 3. 10.45/10.59 Portsmouth-Waterloo 1+1. 11.44 Southampton-Portsmouth 5. 14.45/16.37/16.45/ 17.13/19.15/20.15 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo 6+11+22+5+6+5. 16.50/17.20/17.35/17.50/19.05 Waterloo-Reading 2+2+2+2+9. 16.42/17.12/17.42/19.12 Reading-Waterloo 2+2+2+6. 16.52 Waterloo-Weybridge 3. 17.03/17.37/18.07 Weybridge-Waterloo 7+7+13. 17.23/17.53/18.23 Windsor-Waterloo 3+3+3. 17.58 Waterloo-Windsor 3. 18.05 Waterloo-Aldershot 2. 18.13 Waterloo-Shepperton 6. 19.50/22.52 Waterloo-Woking 4+3.
NUMBERS OF CARRIAGES MISSING: 07.39 Farnham-Waterloo 4. 09.12 Waterloo-Basingstoke 4. 10.58/13.28/15.58/18.28/20.58 Waterloo-Windsor 2+2+2+2+2+2. 12.23/14.53/17.23/19.53 Windsor-Waterloo 2+2+2+2. 15.37 Haslemere-Waterloo 4. 17.02 Waterloo-Guildford 4. 17.50/21.20 Waterloo-Reading 4+4. 19.02 Waterloo-Woking 4. 19.42/23.12 Reading-Waterloo 4+4
[Trains axed (cumulative): 35] [Stops axed (cumulative): 675] [Carriages missing (cumulative): 294]
TRAINS AXED: 07.46 West Byfleet-Waterloo. 07.47 Woking-Waterloo. 07.53 Ascot-Guildford. 08.42 Waterloo-Basingstoke.
NUMBERS OF STOPS AXED: 06.12 Alton-Waterloo 2. 06.28/07.00 Aldershot-Waterloo 11+5. 07.03/08.03/09.27 Waterloo-Kingston-Waterloo 5+8+8. 07.07 Woking-Waterloo 6. 07.10 Haslemere-Waterloo 5. 07.12 Waterloo-Basingstoke 6. 07.22/09.21 Raynes Park-Waterloo 2+2. 22.52 Waterloo-Woking 3.
NUMBERS OF CARRIAGES MISSING: 07.12/10.42/14.12/17.22/20.42 Reading-Waterloo 4+4+4+4+4. 07.39 Farnham-Waterloo 4. 08.50/12.20/15.50/19.05/22.20 Waterloo-Reading 4+4+4+4+4. 14.15 Waterloo-Haslemere 4. 15.37 Haslemere-Waterloo 4. 17.02 Waterloo-Guildford 4. 19.02 Waterloo-Woking 4.
[Trains axed (cumulative): 39] [Stops axed (cumulative): 738] [Carriages missing (cumulative): 354]
TRAINS AXED: 07.15 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo. 19.05 Winchester-Southampton.
NUMBERS OF STOPS AXED: 07.22/09.21 Raynes Park-Waterloo 2+2. 09.03 Weybridge-Waterloo 5. 16.24 Portsmouth-Waterloo 6. 17.37 Guildford-Waterloo 4. 18.20 Weymouth-Waterloo 7. 19.40 Shepperton-Waterloo 6.
NUMBERS OF CARRIAGES MISSING: 07.20 Waterloo-Woking 4. 08.17 Woking-Waterloo 4. 08.52/21.52 Waterloo-Weybridge 2+5. 09.12/11.12 Waterloo-Shepperton 4+4. 10.10/12.10 Shepperton-Waterloo 4+4. 10.33 Weybridge-Waterloo 2. 12.07/13.45/18.37/20.15 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo 2+2+5+5. 13.16/19.46 Waterloo-Chessington 4+4. 14.09/20.39 Chessington-Waterloo 4+4. 14.54 Waterloo-Dorking 4. 16.05 Dorking-Waterloo 4. 16.05/19.20/22.50 Waterloo-Reading 4+4+4. 17.02 Waterloo-Guildford 4. 17.42/21.12 Reading-Waterloo 4+4. 18.28/20.58 Waterloo-Windsor 5+5. 18.37 Guildford-Waterloo 4. 21.24 Waterloo-Epsom 4. 22.23 Windsor-Waterloo 5. 23.33 Weybridge-Staines 5.
[Trains axed (cumulative): 41] [Stops axed (cumulative): 770] [Carriages missing (cumulative): 477]
TRAINS AXED: 19.05 Winchester-Southampton.
NUMBERS OF STOPS AXED: 06.42 Waterloo-Shepperton 8. 07.22/09.21 Raynes Park-Waterloo 2+2. 07.33/08.57 Waterloo-Kingston-Waterloo 8+8. 15.37 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo 1. 15.53 Windsor-Waterloo 4. 17.53 Waterloo-Basingstoke 3. 18.12 Reading-Waterloo 3. 19.24 Basingstoke-Waterloo 2.
NUMBERS OF CARRIAGES MISSING: 06.32/11.33 Weybridge-Waterloo 5+1. 06.42/09.56/17.42/21.12 Reading-Waterloo 4+4+4+4. 06.45/08.09/11.09/18.30 Waterloo-Portsmouth 1+4+1+4. 06.54 Basingstoke-Waterloo 4. 08.10 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo 5. 08.20/16.05/19.20 /22.50 Waterloo-Reading 4+4+4+4. 09.15/10.45/13.59/16.24 Portsmouth-Waterloo 1+4+1+4. 09.52 Waterloo-Weybridge 1.
[Trains axed (cumulative): 42] [Stops axed (cumulative): 811] [Carriages missing (cumulative): 545]
TRAINS AXED: 06.16 Brockenhurst-Weymouth. 06.32 Woking-Waterloo. 06.39 Chessington-Waterloo. 07.45 Clapham Junction-Guildford. 18.52 Reading-Staines.
NUMBERS OF STOPS AXED: 05.55/06.25 Weymouth-Waterloo 2+2. 07.22/09.21 Raynes Park-Waterloo 2+2. 07.33/08.57 Waterloo-Kingston-Waterloo 8+8. 07.45/09.45/17.07 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo 20+5+4. 17.42/17.53/18.12 Reading-Waterloo 9+4+4. 18.36 Weybridge-Waterloo 6.
NUMBERS OF CARRIAGES MISSING: 06.42/09.56/17.42/21.12 Reading-Waterloo 4+4+4+4. 06.42/15.59 Portsmouth-Waterloo 1+4. 08.20/16.05/19.20/22.50 Waterloo-Reading 4+4+4+4. 09.22/15.52/22.22 Waterloo-Weybridge 6+1+1. 09.36/17.36 Waterloo-Hampton Court 2+2. 10.24/18.24 Hampton Court-Waterloo 2+2. 10.53/13.23/15.53/18.23/20.53/22.23 Windsor-Waterloo 4+4+4+4+4+4. 11.03/17.37 Weybridge-Waterloo 6+1. 11.09 Waterloo-Guildford 2. 12.37/19.07/20.45 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo 6 +1+1. 12.37 Guildford-Waterloo 2. 13.46 Waterloo-Chessington 2. 14.39 Chessington-Waterloo 2. 15.54 Havant-Waterloo 1. 16.35 Dorking-Waterloo 2. 17.45 Waterloo-Havant 1. 18.23 Waterloo-Basingstoke 4. 19.09 Waterloo-Guildford 2.
[Trains axed (cumulative): 47] [Stops axed (cumulative): 887] [Carriages missing (cumulative): 655]
Stagecoach shamed in the press again
On 27 April, there was a fatality between Wimbledon and Surbiton around 11.30, leading to SWT's main route being closed for 2 hours. Recovery was thrown into chaos when a duff SWT train blocked the Staines route for two hours at the start of the evening peak. There was severe disruption for rest of the day. Failure to return trains to their proper place overnight meant that the chaos continued through the following morning.
[Evening Standard 29/4/2015]
"There was utter chaos at Waterloo on Monday with every train delayed or cancelled.
With thousands of passengers staring up at the departure boards and hundreds more arriving by the minute, the concourse, upper walkways and escalators all became dangerously packed with irate travellers.
We were given no idea of the length of the delays, nor clear and helpful guidelines on other options to get home. The lack of communication and assistance is utterly disgraceful and inexcusable. South West Trains, hang your heads in sham. Jerry Atkinson."
[Evening Standard 1/5/2015]
"Many of us living on long-distance routes don't have any alternative and are completely at the mercy of South West Trains when there is disruption. I appreciate a fatality on the line will cause disruption but South West Trains has to get better at providing realistic information on the information boards, apps and its website. Tim Davy".
Costs to commuters and employers of train operator failings
[Source: Evening Standard 24.4.2015] "London commuters are late for work more often than those in any other big European city, a survey finds today. Four out of five workers in the capital say they are delayed on their daily journey at least once a month, while 47 per cent say they are late two or three times a month.
It came as a train operator today issued an apology to commuters caught in hours of travel chaos at Waterloo station last night. Disruption was so severe there were more delays today because trains were out of place.
The survey of more than 5,500 commuters in London, Rome, Barcelona, Berlin, Madrid and Paris found some Londoners rate the worry and strain of the journey as on a par with the breakdown of a relationship — and often worse than the job itself. Commuters aged between 18 and 34 and those using different modes of travel are among the likeliest to suffer the most stress, leave for work early and arrive late.
Forty-one per cent of those asked in London said the commute is getting “increasingly stressful” while 37 per cent found the journeys “increasingly unpredictable.” London, which has by far the biggest and most complex commuter networks of the five, scored the most poorly on delays and unpredictability.
Ninety-three per cent of travellers allow extra time for their commute because of frequent hold-ups. Some add 30 minutes or more, equating to almost five full days over a year. Forty-eight per cent have been prevented from reaching their work place entirely because of travel problems.
The research was commissioned by Ford of Europe. Andreas Ostendorf, the organisation’s vice president for sustainability, environment and safety engineering, said: “For many people it can feel like they have done a full day before they even set foot in the office. Society is becoming increasingly urban with cities growing in size and number and we need a transport infrastructure that can keep pace with that expansion. We are working together with a number of city authorities to provide a wider range of affordable, accessible and sustainable transport solutions. Pedestrian walkways, bicycles, buses, trains, vehicles, trams, shuttle buses — all these need to be connected and integrated to optimise urban mobility in the future.”
Last night tens of thousands of commuters arrived at Waterloo on their way home to find services had been cancelled, severely delayed or diverted. Operator South West Trains advised passengers to try to find alternative ways to reach their destinations. The company today told commuters: “We are very sorry for the serious disruption that many of you will have faced while travelling on our services yesterday.” It blamed “two significant incidents at critical locations on our network.”
Totton: Big population abandoned by Stagecoach and Network Rail
>From the 2007 timetable, the standard-hour service at Totton, the fourth largest town between Southampton and Weymouth, was cut by 60%. The 'standard-hour' journey time from Waterloo to Totton increased by 25 minutes, and from Totton to New Milton and Christchurch it roughly doubled. Dr Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East, called the changes an ‘appalling outcome’ for the people of Totton. Data from the Office of Rail Regulation show that entries and exits at Totton station increased by almost 118,000 (71.7%) in the five years before the change, more than at any other station between Southampton and Weymouth except Bournemouth, Poole and Brockenhurst. In the following five years it actually saw a marginal fall while growth continued apace elsewhere.
Despite sympathetic comments from DfT at the time of the downgrade, and from the Rail Minister earlier this year, no improvements are in prospect. Meanwhile reduced hours at the ticket office mean that the station is unstaffed after 10.00 on Mondays-Fridays and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.
The stations shows signs of serious neglect by the failed SWT/Network Rail Alliance. Two years ago County Councillor David Harrison called for the rusty old footbridge to be painted, but SWT did nothing and contends it still has no plans to anything. In addition the down platform remains inaccessible to disabled passengers through a small set of steps not being replaced by a ramp.
So why the lack of interest? Unfortunately for Totton, the station has only a tiny car park, and commuters mainly use the nearby council park. That wouldn't appeal to Stagecoach, which no doubt prefers passengers to drive to Southampton Central or Southampton Airport Parkway, where they can be charged big car parking fees on top of big rail fares. Never mind that the road between Totton and Southampton is notoriously congested and polluted.
The station has huge potential demand. With nearby Hythe and the Waterside, population in the catchment area is in the region of 60,000. By way of comparison, the major rail centre of Basingstoke has under 90,000. Historically, there have been two proposals to boost rail access around Totton. First a parkway station at West Totton, and secondly reinstatement of a passenger train service between Southampton, Totton and Hythe. Hampshire County Council chose the latter, which has considerable local support, but Stagecoach would no doubt have preferred the former.
Summer timetable revision
The passenger timetable for South Hampshire continues virtually set in stone. Highlight of the permanent changes is SWT's further downgrade of the Southampton to Portsmouth service, with 10 more trains a week (07.17 and 15.44 on Mondays-Fridays) no longer continuing beyond Portsmouth & Southsea. At the start of privatisation, all but 21 trains a week on this service ran through to the Harbour station; that number has now increased to 112. In addition, the 16.49 Portsmouth Harbour-Eastleigh is cut back to start from Portsmouth & Southsea. The two-hourly Sunday stops at Shawford are increased to hourly until 27 September inclusive, and the 12.50 Poole-Waterloo calls additionally at Beaulieu Road on Mondays-Fridays.
Some northbound Mondays-Saturdays Cross Country services are accelerated and depart slightly later. The 17.47 Bournemouth-Manchester is diverted to Leeds on Saturdays until September 5 inclusive.
First Great Western services will be affected by pre-electrification work. During August, the hourly trains between Portsmouth and Cardiff will be diverted from Trowbridge to serve Chippenham and Swindon, where they will terminate. Some of these services will also call at Melksham. Passengers can change at Swindon for Bristol and South Wales. A range of substitute bus services will also operate, but there will be virtually no other FGW services in South Hampshire. From late October, weekend FGW services will run only to and from Bristol Parkway instead of Cardiff Central.
Over 40 fires on Stagecoach buses since January 2011
Bus fires are generally rare and the number affecting Stagecoach buses appears increasingly disproportionate. Assuming our records are complete, there were 9 incidents in 2011; 11 in 2012; 10 in 2013; and 10 in 2014. These figures exclude arson and overseas fires. The majority of fires occur when passengers are on board, and there are some horrific internet video clips of conflagrations.
Stagecoach’s response to every incident is that safety is their absolute priority. However, fires have not been the only problem. Sanctions were imposed after a number of buses shed wheels in Scotland, a bus drove on after wrecking a shelter in Cheltenham, and a great grand-mother had to have a foot amputated after a bus ran over it as she boarded because the driver had not applied the handbrake. Another bus ignored a level crossing barrier on the Taunton-Exeter line seconds before a high speed train passed, and yet another demolished level crossing gates in Canterbury, causing major disruption to South Eastern train services. Latest incidents:
1. Bus fire in Moray scares passengers [Source: Press and Journal (Inverness) 27.4.2015]
"Passengers on a bus in Moray were given a fright yesterday after a mechanical problem prompted a fire alert on a busy road. Firefighters were called to the incident on the A941 Elgin to Lossiemouth road at around 12.30pm. The Stagecoach bus is understood to have suffered an engine problem near Sun Bank Quarry, while travelling to Elgin with several passengers on board.
A passing motorist called the fire and rescue service after reporting seeing smoke coming from the vehicle. Two fire crews from Elgin and Lossiemouth went to the scene but the bus is not said to have caught fire. Passengers on board were evacuated from the vehicle and the road was closed for around 15 minutes. A fire and rescue spokesman said the incident was still treated as a "confirmed fire". He added: "It was out by the time we got there. It was some sort of a mechanical issue. There was a lot of smoke and oil."
2. Double decker bus crashes into ditch in Lincoln [Source: The Lincolnite 13.6.2015]
"Emergency services were called to Meadow Lane in North Hykeham after a double decker bus crashed into a ditch. The bus veered onto the opposite side of the road before crashing into a tree in a ditch at around 7.30am on Saturday June 13. The road was closed to motorists in both directions.
Lincolnshire Police, Lincolnshire Fire & Rescue and ambulances have attended the scene. Police have confirmed the bus was the only vehicle involved in the crash. Officers say it is not clear how many people were on the bus but three persons were injured. Two suffered minor injuries and one man sustained a laceration to his leg which required hospital treatment. The road is still closed whilst the bus is being recovered but expected to open by 1.30pm today"
3. Seventeen injured in Tebay bus smash [Source: BBC website 16.6.2015]
"Seventeen people - including seven schoolchildren - were injured after a bus crashed into a house in Cumbria. The Stagecoach bus had hit a car before it ploughed into the house, which was occupied at the time, although no-one inside was hurt, police said. Investigations have begun into the cause of the crash, on the A685 at Tebay, at about 17:00 BST on Tuesday. None of the injuries are believed to be life-threatening, although nine people were taken to hospital. Structural engineers are examining the property. Drivers have been urged to avoid the area if possible."
Rapacious revenue protection, but ticket vending facilities can be lacking even at major SWT stations
SWT ticket offices advertised as closed during opening hours, in many cases repeatedly (April-June):
Addlestone, Aldershot, Alton, Andover, Ascot, Ash, Ash Vale, Ashtead, Bagshot, Basingstoke, Bracknell, Branksome, Brentford, Brockenhurst, Camberley, Chertsey, Claygate, Cosham, Dorchester, Eastleigh, Egham, Esher, Fareham, Farnborough, Farncombe, Fratton, Gillingham, Hampton, Hamworthy, Hinton Admiral, Honiton, Horsley, Liphook, Lymington Town, Netley, New Milton, Norbiton, Petersfield, Pokesdown, Poole, Portsmouth & Southsea, Portsmouth Harbour, St Denys, Shepperton, Sherborne, Southampton Airport Parkway, Southampton Central, Strawberry Hill, Sunningdale, Swanwick, Sway, Tisbury, Tolworth, Upper Halliford, Virginia Water, Walton-on-Thames, Wandsworth Town, Wareham, West Byfleet, Weybridge, Whitton, Winchester, Windsor, Winnersh, Wool, Woolston, Worplesdon.
Ticket machines advertised as failed, in many cases repeatedly (April-June):
Addlestone, Alton, Ascot, Ash Vale, Ashford, Ashtead, Axminster, Bagshot, Bentley, Bookham, Botley, Brookwood, Camberley, Claygate, Crewkerne, Datchet, Earley, Esher, Ewell West, Farncombe, Guildford, Hamble, Hampton, Hamworthy, Hersham, Hilsea, Kempton Park, London Road Guildford, Martins Heron, Millbrook, Moreton, Motspur Park, North Sheen, Petersfield, Pinhoe, Pokesdown, Portsmouth Harbour, Redbridge, St Denys, Shawford, Shepperton, Sherborne, Staines, Sunbury, Sunnymeads, Swanwick, Syon Lane, Thames Ditton, Tisbury, Totton, Upper Halliford, Wareham, Whimple, Whitton, Winchfield, Winnersh, Worplesdon, Wraysbury.
Disabled people beware: Lifts advertised as out of use at the following stations (April-June):
Out-of-use station lifts can also help make it difficult for disabled people to buy tickets. Lift failures have been advertised for Basingstoke, Brentford, Brockenhurst, Clapham Junction, Earlsfield, Fareham, Farnborough, Farnham, Feltham, Fratton, Haslemere, Havant, Kingston, New Malden, Putney, Southampton Airport, Southampton Central, Staines, Surbiton, Vauxhall, Weybridge, Wimbledon, Winchester, Woking, Wokingham and Worcester Park.
Response on behalf of the South Hampshire Rail Users' Group to DfT's consultation on 'Changes to the Rail Penalty Fares appeals process'
20 April 2015
Copied to TransportFocus
I attach a response on behalf of the South Hampshire Rail Users' Group.
We are grateful for the opportunity to respond to the consultation, and trawled for comments through Issue 146 of our newsletter which was placed on our website: www.shrug.info.
We are an 'open' group, accessible through our website, Hampshire County Council's website, and the websites of various stakeholder organisations. We were originally founded over 20 years ago by a group of South Hampshire-Waterloo commuters but now operate mainly by e'mail. We specialise in evidence-based research. Our history of South West Trains (available on our website) is a substantial record of the views of passengers, Ministers, the press and representative organisations across two decades.
In passing, it is disappointing that there seems to have been little progress on requiring train operators to treat passengers fairly and reasonably since the previous consultation on penalty fares in 2010.
Revenue protection problems are unsurprising:
* Passengers numbers have soared whilst the fares structure has become considerably more complex, and we have an increasing immigrant population for whom the complexity is particularly prone to be problematic.
* Concurrently, taking the example of South West Trains, once-busy travel centres have largely been eliminated. Passengers with queries therefore cause long delays at booking offices. Booking office windows are often closed at busy times. SWT's website has repeatedly reported booking offices as closed during opening hours even at major stations such at Woking, Winchester, Portsmouth & Southsea and Southampton Central.
* The 'dodgy excuses' listed by ATOC are a distraction from the real issues. The excuses are quite comical and likely to have been given by less-bright people who have been caught without a ticket either because they are intent on fare avoidance, or because they have been genuinely perplexed when left to rely on ticket machines.
* Rail travel is very different from bus travel. In most parts of the country people can turn up at a bus stop, board the bus, and pay the driver or swipe a card. Ticket machines at stations can be awkward use, and may reject perfectly good coinage or bank cards. Oyster/smart card readers may not respond to a card. Queues of muttering fellow passengers can quickly build up. On the bus, the driver or conductor will witness card problems. At station machines, there is no witness, and passengers who board without a ticket are often not believed when they explain the problem.
* On SWT stations, notices tell passengers to use a help point or approach the guard before boarding if there are no ticket vending facilities available. As Lord Adonis discovered at Southampton Central, help points are often unattended. Finding a guard can be difficult where a long train pulls into a busy platform. Some SWT guards are not 'commercial guards' and cannot sell tickets. In addition, it is often impossible to pass through crammed trains, so a penalty fare can be an additional operator perk from overcrowding.
* For people unfamiliar with rail travel there are a host of difficulties, especially when they had not planned to use rail (for example car breaks down, or they find a bus service has recently been withdrawn). New rail users at unstaffed stations are expected to understand a range a range of ticket types and conditions, the difference between railcards and travelcards, and procedural obligations such as looking for warning posters.
* It is instructive to examine TOCs' Twitter accounts. In the case of SWT, three reasons given by people without a valid ticket appear paramount:
- difficulty understanding the fares system or using ticket issuing or reading equipment as above;
- human error such as forgetting to carry a railcard (this will come to light in front of booking clerks but not in front ticket machines); or expecting the privatised railways to operate the criterion of 'reasonableness' (a mainstay of non-privatised public services), for example by allowing people to use first class accommodation when standard accommodation (which has seen space standards severely reduced on SWT) is crammed. High-profile examples of human error have included George Osborne travelling in first class with a standard ticket, and actor Richard Wilson leaving his railcard at home.
- need to get somewhere quickly. Society relies on people being in the right place at the right time, yet SWT expects passengers to queue for tickets for 20 minutes and upwards. In addition, trains miss stops and leave passengers standing on stations at the drop of hat. It's not unusual for people to be carried past their stop for operational convenience and then waste perhaps an hour through having to travel back. A high profile passenger who suffered a penalty fare, on Thameslink, was Cherie Blair who needed to get to work urgently and did not join a ticket machine queue before boarding.
ATOC would do well to consider these situations rather than focus on 'joke' excuses. Its failure to do so suggests a bad attitude, and specifically lack of empathy, towards the passengers whom the TOCs always claim to put at the centre of everything they do.
Moving on to how the penalty fares system has developed, it was initially considered that passengers should receive the safeguard of permit to travel machines. Is there any data on the rise of penalty fares after these machines were largely removed?
It is interesting how ATOC outlines all the benefits for passengers which the lost £240m would buy, in terms of station improvements and new trains:
- Announcements of improvements by TOCs, often funded by taxpayers, have routinely included more ticket machines, even though relying on machines rather than booking staff can be an obstacle to passengers in getting the correct ticket.
- Lifts are a major call on investment, yet disabled people often can't use them because a station is left unstaffed. Brentford became notorious for its new lifts being accessible only for short daily periods.
- Ticket barriers get listed as an improvement, yet have caused serious dangers at London Bridge, whilst a woman has received thousands in compensation for being crushed in a barrier at Waterloo.
- Over £100m of the missing £240m can be matched by the profit the TOCs make at passengers' expense from Network Rail's failures. The Evening Standard of 16.9.2013 reported that it paid them £136m in 2012-13 for infrastructure problems which caused services to be late or cancelled, whilst the companies paid out less than £30m in ticket refunds to passengers.
- So far as we know, there are no available figures on the further amounts lost to passengers who face obstacles in getting the cheapest tickets. Sustained anecdotal evidence, as in Barry Doe's articles in RAIL magazine, suggest that the amounts are likely to be considerable.
- What too of the money wasted by train operators? Analysts considered that Stagecoach got a generous first settlement on SWT yet it collapsed the timetable by disposing of drivers and middle managers. Its continued failure led to its second franchise being reduced from 20 years to three and its being told to concentrate on recovering performance (Stephen Byers, Official Record 21.5.2002). Agreed action to develop longer platforms at Waterloo and 60 other stations between 2002 and 2005 to accommodate more 10-car trains (SRA's Strategic Plan of January 2002) was delayed by over 10 years. So was SWT's much-publicised proposal to ‘gold-plate’ track in the London area.
- The Telegraph of 23.9.2006 commented that this second franchise was the deal which “pulled the company out of reverse gear, since when the shares have trebled in value. It turned out to be a licence to print money.” Stagecoach's 2014 Annual Report reveals that nine directors hold 150m shares, which are worth over half a billion pounds. Founders Brian Souter and Ann Gloag are jointly worth £1 billion.
Christian Wolmar commented in RAIL of 11.10.2006 that “The interim three-year arrangement agreed by Richard Bowker at the SRA in 2002 …was far too generous to Stagecoach. Under that contract, Stagecoach has been making super-profits at the expense of passengers and the taxpayer, netting a fabulous £58.9 million in the last year on turnover of around £500 million. That’s 12% of turnover. As I mentioned in my book, ‘On the Wrong Line’, a senior Stagecoach executive told me privately that the SRA had been a pushover and the company had been delighted by the deal.”
Do you agree with the proposal to implement new rules on 'stopping the clock' during the penalty fares appeals process?
Yes. The behaviour of operators varies but, in the case of South West Trains, the objective often appears to be to frighten passengers into paying up without appeal. South West Trains operates a policy of severe intimidation, both by linking penalty fares and criminal prosecutions, and by sidestepping the penalty fares system and threatening criminal prosecutions. Prosecution may appear fairer, because the court will arbitrate, but the real objective appears to be to scare passengers into handing over large sums of money prior to a hearing.
There are also questions around the costs to public funds of burdening the courts with comparatively trivial issues, not to mention the costs to passengers who seek legal representation in the face of SWT's threats. In the light of such disproportionate behaviour, the costs of 'stopping the clock' should not be an issue. Note the following cases in which passengers have approached our Group:
* In October 2008, a commuter arrived at Southampton Central with his bike and found the gates unattended (a common problem), contrary to legal requirements. He therefore opened the manual gate, to avoid missing his train to work. Staff appeared and he politely showed his valid season ticket, but was given a £55 penalty.
He refused to pay, so was prosecuted and threatened with a £1,000 fine, 3 months in prison or both. A criminal record would have prevented him from continuing his charitable work with vulnerable serving and former service men and women.
In April, the Court directed SWT to release CCTV images to the passenger, along with details of the gate and its signage. SWT sent him just a polaroid image of the gates and confirmed in writing that they had looked at the CCTV images and destroyed them.
In July, the passenger had to come back from holiday in Spain to attend court. SWT pulled out all the stops, producing three members of staff to give evidence against him.
The passenger considers that their evidence was partly false. The court found him not guilty, said the case should never have been brought, and admonished SWT for wasting court time.
* In January 2009, a woman on crutches made a 5-mile journey to Axminster station to buy a ticket to travel to Basingstoke the next day. She found the ticket office closed during opening hours (another common problem), so had to use the ticket machine. The screen was difficult to read because of glare from the sun (another common problem). She therefore inadvertently obtained a ticket dated the day of purchase rather than the day of travel.
The train guard clipped her ticket without query. At Basingstoke, the barrier rejected it. A member of staff took her details but said it was a common situation which would probably be overlooked. SWT’s prosecutions department then wrote saying they had intended to take her to court, which could lead to a £1,000 fine, 3 months in prison, or both. However, as it was a first offence, and taking her mitigation into account, they would agree to a Caution with Applied Costs: £45 operational costs for dealing with the incident; £10 for writing the letter; and £29.40 for the fare avoided: a total of £84.40 to pay within 14 days.
The woman replied that she and her husband were known to the previous Managing and Commercial Directors of SWT. Her husband had arranged a ceremony for one of the Wessex Electric trains to be named “Bournemouth Orchestras”, and the couple had hosted a celebratory Promenade Concert at the Albert Hall on behalf of SWT. She felt the penalty fare was completely unjustified and would opt for the case to go to court. SWT staff from Axminster would be prepared to give evidence in court on her behalf and one had said that SWT would rather proceed than admit a mistake.
This drew the response:
“Please allow me to inform you that any member of Stagecoach South Western Trains Limited staff from Axminster station who is prepared to attend court on your behalf must do so in their own time. If they intend to appear during their allocated working hours an arrangement for compensation to reimburse the costs of staff and their replacements must be made between Stagecoach South Western Trains Limited and you; before the court date.
……With regard to your comment allegedly made by a member of staff at Axminster station, that ‘South West Trains would rather proceed than admit a mistake’, I find such an accusation to be a most scurrilous, malicious and disloyal statement, which I take personally, and I am in contact with the Area Manager for the West of England to ensure it is investigated as soon as possible”.
The writer ended by saying that “I have no doubt that a prosecution would have a devastating effect on you and I am therefore prepared to allow the offer of a Conditional Caution to stand until 12.00hrs, 31 July 2009”. Overall, this response recalls Christian Wolmar’s book ‘Stagecoach’ in which he detects, “an arrogance and deep conviction that the company is right and everyone else is wrong.” Dismissing reasonable criticism out of hand, sometimes in one sentence, is a familiar Stagecoach characteristic.
After pressure from the Axminster station manager, SWT dropped the case, but on the basis that the passenger had been on crutches, rather than because their action had been totally outrageous.
* A passenger who used a machine at Southampton Airport Parkway in extreme haste because his train was coming, inadvertently bought a child ticket to Winchester, instead of an adult ticket to Southampton using his Young Person’s Railcard. As his employer was to reimburse the cost, there was no incentive to cheat. He was nonetheless asked to pay £300 to avoid prosecution, because he had paid 5 pence too little. Outside the court, the prosecutor was rude and intimidating, and asked the defendant to pay £150 for SWT to withdraw the case. It became clear in court that the prosecutor hadn’t bothered to read preceding correspondence, and the magistrates repeatedly admonished him for asking irrelevant questions and bullying. They found “absolutely no evidence” that the passenger had tried to avoid paying his fare.
Whilst it SWT enthusiastically prosecutes its passengers, it appears less committed to ensuring that prosecutions are conducted properly. This may be because it realizes there is no evidence of fare avoidance, and relies on pre-trial intimidation, as above, to extract large sums of money. Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court made SWT withdraw NINE prosecutions after it had failed to serve case details for the second hearing in a row. The magistrate commented that he despaired. (Source: Dorset Evening Echo, 5.10.2012)
We are not suggesting that all train operators are as unprofessional, inhuman, and rapacious as Stagecoach, but these cases alarmingly illustrate the huge scope for abuse of passengers under both penalty fares and criminal sanctions.
Do you agree with the proposal to establish the independence of all penalty fares appeals bodies?
Yes. One problem of using a civil procedure instead of the courts is that a lower level of proof is required. There is plenty of evidence that people who choose to go to court win their cases, particularly if they can afford legal representation. If penalty fares were a criminal issue, the current processes would probably fall for judicial review as contrary to natural justice. The following article by Christian Wolmar seems relevant:
"It is time that the train companies took on board the fact that they are, for better or worse, in the private sector. The irony is that in many respects they behave like the old state company which they replaced, and use the rules devised to protect British Rail to their advantage.
A reader, Paul Davies wrote to me recently about his son, Alex, who was not a frequent rail user. Nor after the bad experience he had is he ever likely to be. Alex made the mistake of sitting in a first class seat on a Southern train. They are, in fact, exactly the same as all other seats, though there is a door that says First Class and anti-macassars with the same message. Rather than just saying, ‘sonny you’ve made a mistake’, the conductor slapped a £51 penalty charge on him.
His father got rather exercised about this, and started investigating. He tried to appeal the ticket but that was rejected on the grounds that there were seats in standard available on that train. No proper consideration of his son’s circumstances were taken into account, though the train company did accept that it was an honest mistake and not an attempt to fare dodge.
However, what got Mr Davies really angry was the discovery that the appeal body, the Independent Penalty Fare Appeals Service, is not, as its name suggests, ‘independent’ but rather run by the SouthEastern train operator which is owned by the same company, Govia, as Southern. The chairman of the appeals panel is Charles Horton, the boss of SouthEastern.
Now Mr Horton is an experienced and widely respected railway manager but Mr Davies and other passengers are not to know this. The Department for Transport tried to justify this arrangement by saying appeals are dealt with according to a set of criteria that it has laid down but these are not available publicly. The Department also stresses that IPFAS is separate organisation from the train company.
The key point, however, is none of this looks good. Why should railway organisations run these appeal bodies (there is another one, too)? It is simply inappropriate. Why, too, are their appeals procedures not more transparent and the basis of decisions clearly set out? And why do utterly unaccountable as demonstrated by, rather amusingly, when Mr Davies tried to get more information on IPFAS. He dialled its premium line service, pressed option 4 for ‘more information’ only to get a recorded message that ‘no more information is available’. You couldn’t make it up.
Mr Davies makes an important point when he says: ‘When penalty fares were introduced they reversed the burden of proof, so people were guilty unless they could prove otherwise. This was a significant and controversial reversal of what has become known as Clause 29 in Magna Carta. This legislative change was so significant that massive safeguards were introduced and a totally independent penalty fares appeals service, IPFAS, was introduced.’ It now transpires, of course, that the independent service is nothing of the sort.
This is all part of a wider issued of the accountability of the train companies. Passenger Focus produced an excellent report, Ticket to Ride, last May in which it set out a number of examples where clearly the train companies had acted as policeman, judge, jury and jailor. When the railways were owned by the state, that was more – but not totally – acceptable as British Rail was effectively protecting the interests of taxpayers.
Passenger Focus pointed out that the companies have, under legislation, the right to impose penalties if its bye-laws are breached – and no matter what excuses are given, the company can impose sanctions, a process known as ‘strict liability’. Therefore, for example, simply not having your railcard with you (as happened famously to Richard ‘one foot in the grave’ Wilson) means you have breached the rules, even if you can prove later that you have a valid one. That is why, too, there is this licensed theft of charging people the whole fare if they happen to be travelling on the wrong train.
The Passenger Focus report outlined some appalling cases, such as a chap who was unable to get his tickets out of a machine due to a malfunction, was issued with an unpaid fare notice (UFN, requiring the full peak time fare) which it refused to rescind even when at his destination he was able to print out the tickets. The company said that he had the obligation to produce a ticket and as he did not, it issued the UFN and refused to rescind it despite the machine being broken.
Private companies are not extensions of government and should not have the right to impose criminal sanctions without any recourse to a genuinely independent appeal procedures. No other private companies in the land can do that. The Association of Train Operating Companies’ response to Passenger Focus’s report would have done Judge Jeffreys proud: ‘Train companies need to take a firm but fair approach to fare dodging because unfortunately there will always be people who try to get away without paying.’ In other words, our passengers are a bunch of thieving scallywags who deserve what they get.
However, ATOC has promised that it is ‘working on an industry-wide code of practice that will set out how operators deal with fare dodgers and where discretion can be shown for passengers who have made an honest mistake’. Clearly that cannot come too soon – and moreover, the industry should make sure that it has a clear impartial procedure to deal with disputes, rather than the sham of IPFAS."
Revenue Protection Officers on the worst TOCs have become to rail passengers what cowboy clampers are to motorists: automatons which take money without listening to reasonable arguments. In the case of South West Trains, the evidence could not be more robust. After Stagecoach bid £600m more than its rivals for a third franchise term, it issued a leaflet 'Buying your ticket before you board' which cynically stated: “We’ve produced a leaflet to help you make sure you don’t get caught out by accident and have to face the consequences…. Some people make costly mistakes about ticket types when they travel on our trains … Having an invalid ticket counts as having no ticket at all.”
The Times published the following article by Ben Webster, their Transport Correspondent:
"Britain’s biggest train company has ordered its guards to stop showing any discretion to passengers who are unable to buy tickets before boarding because of long queues at stations.
South West Trains (SWT) is forcing thousands of passengers to pay penalties, even though it admits that it does not have enough ticket machines and regularly breaches its commitment to keep no one waiting more than five minutes to buy a ticket.
It has told its guards not to accept any explanation from passengers and to charge the maximum peak fare, which is often double the normal fare. Passengers travelling from London to Weymouth in Dorset are being charged £82 on board for a ticket that would have cost £35 if they had bought it at the station. They could be liable for an additional £20 penalty, or prosecuted, for fare evasion. SWT has angered passengers in the past month by raising off-peak fares by 20 per cent.
Denis Fryer, of the South Hampshire Rail Users Group, said that SWT was profiting from its own failure to provide enough facilities for buying tickets. He said: “Passengers are being treated like fare-dodgers even when they have made a genuine effort to buy a ticket in advance. SWT is being greedy and unreasonable, especially because the problem is often its own failure to staff ticket offices properly.”
One train guard told The Times that he had been reprimanded by his manager for showing leniency to passengers who had clearly attempted to buy a ticket before boarding. “Even when people are completely honest and come up to us on the train to buy a ticket, we have to charge them the maximum fare,” he said. SWT admitted that it had failed to keep pace with the growth in demand for rail travel. The company said that it had ordered another 194 ticket machines for its network, although a spokeswoman said that the machines would not all be installed until September next year.
Passengers who waited longer than five minutes and had to buy a more expensive ticket on board “would have the option of contacting our customer relations department, who will look at each case individually”.
Passenger Focus, the Government-funded rail passenger watchdog, said that it was investigating complaints about penalties imposed by SWT. It said that it had complained to the company about its failure to meet its commitment on queuing time.
The company signed a new franchise last year under which it agreed to pay the Government £1.2 billion over 10 years. The company said it was being forced to find new ways of raising revenue to pay that sum."
‘RAIL’ editor Nigel Harris argued in Issue 569 that SWT was damaging the reputation of the rail industry as a whole: “Maybe it’s because many railway people don’t actually pay fares – or not in full – especially very senior managers. But no-one likes to feel ripped-off and once you offend the British sense of fair play, you’re in trouble. Politicians forget this too but a bloody nose at election time usually reminds them. So, I watched in despair in mid-June as The Times ‘exposed’ South West Trains’ pre-meditated policy to “… fleece its passengers.” The harsh words “sharp practice”, and “profiteering” were used. SWT was “the unacceptable face of rail privatisation.” This is all enormously damaging – not just for Stagecoach, but the whole industry. RAIL was critical of SWT’s recent moves to manipulate the peak and impose 20% increases on off-peak fares and The Times was equally unimpressed. SWT’s protests about easing the post-peak rush were unconvincing: this is all about maximising revenues.”
Advantages for passengers from the proposed change are clearcut. There could well be savings for the industry because the incentive for cowboy behaviour would be much reduced and many fewer cases pursued.
Do you agree with the implementation of a third stage appeal in the appeals process?
Yes. A more thorough scrutiny of appeals would help discourage the most aggressive companies from pursuing cases unreasonably. It would also be sensible to have a de minimis, so that the appeals system is not clogged by penalty fares being pursued for derisory amounts. On SWT, for example, off-peak day return fares for journeys outside the London suburban area have been increased so that they are generally about 10p less than the peak return. Some anytime day return fares with off-peak fares in brackets: Southampton-Basingstoke £14.70 (£14.60); Southampton-Bournemouth £14.40 (£14.30); Southampton-Ryde Esplanade £30.60 (£30.50); Southampton-Weymouth £27.00 (£26.80). A 10p-20p saving will mean little to most passengers but opens the opportunity for penalty fares to be levied where a passenger mistakenly boards a peak train with an off-peak ticket.
It also seems unreasonable to charge a penalty fare where a passenger's mistake does not result in any loss to a company. Example: A young couple travelling with two £6.00 Megatrain tickets from Waterloo to Southampton decided to alight at Eastleigh, 5.75 miles short of their booked destination. For this infringement of Stagecoach’s spurious rules, they were surcharged £114.
How would the industry establish and fund a third stage appeal?
It would be more appropriate for government to establish the entire appeals body to help ensure its genuine independence. DfT has always taken the line that railways are a public service, privately delivered. Government appoints TOCs so should logically appoint the independent appeals body. The industry could achieve substantial savings by not pursuing unreasonable cases and by having a de minimis, as suggested in our response to Question 3.
Other measures which could reduce the penalty fare workload and its costs are re-introducing permit to travel machines at all stations where penalty fares are operated, and requiring non-commercial guards (who cannot issue tickets) to provide passengers with a covering note where they have tried to buy a ticket.
More generally, given the lower level of proof required for the imposition of civil/administrative sanctions, there should be a presumption in favour of giving passengers the benefit of the doubt, for example because of the complex fares systems and imperfect ticket issuing equipment (machines not accepting particular coins or cards etc).
It is probably difficult for Ministers and DfT officials who do not use the worst companies' services to realise how mean-minded TOCs can be. Note the following e'mail which we received:
"At approximately midday today (29 January 2015) I was alerted by a fellow male passenger on the London-bound platform at Havant, of a teenage female passenger being given grief by two SWT ticket inspectors.
From what I gathered, It sounds like this girl had simply not been able to buy, or had bought the wrong ticket by mistake, and the SWT revenue-protection staff simply decided to treat her as a fare dodger, which she wasn't. As a result the poor girl was in tears.
Having read your website over the past few years, I've seen just how bad SWT are and have been since 1996, and why a new operator is desperately needed for the London Waterloo-South Western train franchise.
In future I will at least be able to use Southern and Southeastern trains' services (I currently live in Sussex, and hoping to move to Kent). But for passengers who have no choice but to use South West Trains' Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth/Poole and Weymouth to London Waterloo trains, I sympathise with their plight.
Sorry for the very long e'mail, but with my own interest in all things railways, plus how service on the routes mentioned above have gone from amongst the best on the old Southern Region under BR-Network SouthEast, to the worst under SWT, I wanted to express my opinion on the problems caused by Stagecoach South Western Trains Ltd."
The following Twitter conversations, from SWT's website are also significant. In one case a woman was made to leave a train when she had a valid ticket but staff did not know the rules:
* I've a travel card on my Oyster. When I arrived at Barnes Bridge, none of my travel cards, including previous ones were showing up. It's never happened since or previously. It was a problem with your system as TfL could see all of my previous travel cards. [SWT response: Have you considered card clash? Something may be wiping data from your Oyster Card in your purse?] Card clash? Have you considered rude, incompetent staff? I received a letter today [5 January] dated 22nd December stating I now owe £90 as no payment received and I need to pay within 14 days of date of letter. Can you please send details for someone who will sort? [SWT response: I appreciate your comments, however this is outside our remit. Please contact IRCAS directly here.] I did appeal, but IRCAS claimed they received my letter late so fine increased to £55. Now I have a £90 fine hanging over me. I have paid £55 over the phone today begrudgingly but have been advised I risk you taking me to court.
* Just been told I can't use my railcard, it's in date but I'm just apparently not allowed to use it. Good one SWT. I was paying at the ticket machine, and it wouldn't work, so I asked to pay on the train (I approached the guard) and explained what happened, and her words were, "You can't use your railcard on the train". My response was that the ticket machine wasn't working, and she said "Tough". Never dealt with such a rude member of staff from SWT.
* Should be ashamed of yourselves. Prosecuting my girlfriend (a single mum) because her card didn't work in your ticket machine and no guard on train. She fully expected the guard to walk through and waited for him. [SWT response: If you don't have a ticket and board a train the onus is on you to find the guard and not wait for them to come to you.] She was getting her expenses paid for by work so she had NO REASON to fare jump. This is a genuine misunderstanding that common sense and good customer service could and SHOULD have avoided. I sincerely hope you apply that common sense now and enter into a dialogue with her before you waste a court's time! [SWT response: You can appeal the penalty fare at http://ircas.co.uk.] She doesn't HAVE a penalty notice. They took her details and she heard nothing for 3 months then got a COURT SUMMONS today!! The ircas website doesn't volunteer their number so that's very helpful. I'm curious - is it your usual process to tell someone you WON'T issue them a penalty then scare them with a court summons later? [SWT response: I'm not aware of the penalty fare process. I would have imagined a penalty fare comes first. Perhaps it was lost in the post.]
* A member of your staff refused to recognise a simple mistake which was made - I was told to get off at a station I don't know and to find a cash point - he accused me of lying and I was left in the middle of nowhere, with no phone service and no idea how I could get home. I spend a lot of money on trains and don't expect to be patronised and belittled by you're staff. I'm 17 years old, got 3 big bags and was made to stand in the cold an hour from home because your guard was being picky. [SWT response: Sorry to hear this. Where are you now? Are you stranded, or have you resumed your journey?] I have just got home, after an hour of walking around trying to find a cash point and trying to get hold of someone to pick me up.
* My wife was just kicked off a train using a ticket specifically referenced in the booking confirmation. There was an announcement that the ticket type we purchased was not valid, despite it being the exact train we booked. [SWT response: Super off-peaks are not valid if you started your journey at Waterloo, but are in this case as she started back at Hull. Sorry she was ejected, please keep the tickets and contact our Customer Relations team about this.]
* Maybe I'm missing something but a single fare is £16.70. So how would the fine come to £300 ???? [SWT response: You'll be fined the most expensive ticket (first class) plus the penalty fare for this route.
* Fined for having a ticket for the 5th and not the 6th, which is strange because I didn't ask for a ticket for the 5th.
* Earlier tweets saying penalty fares are fines are incorrect and a lie. [SWT response: Apologies for the earlier reference to fines. Our mistake. We know they are penalty fares.]
* Great customer Service: "Stand in first class and you will be fined - don't use it as an overflow", SWT guard - 8am train at Whitton. [SWT response: The guard is correct, you do need a first class ticket to be in first class. But sorry if they came across as brusque.] Since you reintroduced two first class compartments - dozens often unable to board 8am train -picture from Wednesday.
* SWT fining me 80 quid for standing in first class when two trains had been cancelled and there was no space. Outrageous.
* I honestly told a guard at Waterloo I wanted to buy a ticket - I was then fined and now I have a £100 penalty to pay. It was only self service and I couldn't work out how to buy an open return and many times I have wrongly bought a day return and I can't get a refund so I thought the best idea would be to buy one on the train. [SWT response: If you wish to appeal there are contact details on the penalty fare. You should let them know the information you have told me.] I have and they've rejected it and slapped on a £70 admin fee. It's disgusting.
* I don't like the doors being forced open whilst I'm having a piss. [SWT response: It is a place where fare evaders like to hide, unfortunately.]
* Please explain policy. Bought ticket on train as usual because machine isn't cheapest fare with railcard, and got warning of penalty fare after paying. [SWT response: It is only acceptable to do so when there are zero ticket purchasing facilities at stations.]
The last example illustrates the strange disparity that Government advises people to shop around for the cheapest energy suppliers, yet tolerates TOCs requiring passengers to buy a ticket where it is not the cheapest available.
Do you agree with the proposal to strengthen DfT oversight on the penalty fares and appeals process?
Yes. It is very clear from travelling around the country that passengers who fall foul of the multitude of rules are treated with very different levels of understanding. We therefore suspect that there will be considerable disparity about the scale of penalty fares issued.
South West Trains is particularly suspect as it has demonstrated both secrecy and evasiveness about its penalty fares operations. On 14.2.2013 BBC South Today reported the big numbers of penalty fares that Southern and First Great Western had provided, whereas South West Trains refused to supply information on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.
A handful of stakeholders, including myself, were invited to the Winchester meeting of SWT's Passengers Panel on 15.2.2011. There was trenchant criticism from participants about the way SWT treats its passengers. Despite a hugely complex fares system, SWT apparently preferred to increase revenue by unreasonably applying penalty fares rather than by attracting more passengers through advertising. People whose first language was not English were noted as being particularly susceptible to SWT bullying.
A case was quoted of a passenger who arrived at Swanwick station just in time to board a Southern train. The guard said he could board and pay at the barriers at Southampton Central. SWT then imposed a penalty fare. Participants saw the incident as highlighting the friendlier approach of Southern, which encouraged people to use trains.
One participant remarked that the employment of extra commercial guards could pay for itself through increased fare collection; guards were the company’s ambassadors who could help build good customer relations. The only reference to this meeting on the Panel’s website was in the report of its May 2011 meeting: “At the previous Stakeholders’ meeting that the Panel held in Winchester it quickly became clear that the attitude of staff on the railway was a big factor in determining their level of satisfaction. As one visitor put it “your guards are truly the company’s ambassadors”.
We would suggest that DfT oversight should include scrutiny of the bullying of perceived soft targets, such as children, young women travelling alone, and persons whose first language is clearly not English, and that TOCs should be required to keep relevant records to facilitate this - a simple tick box system should suffice.
How frequently should audits take place?
We suggest they should at least be conducted annually, to check whether TOCs are changing course (remembering how SWT's revenue protection became even more savage after Stagecoach over-bid for its third franchise.) Audits are a perfectly normal function of business, and TOCs should be expected to bear the costs themselves.
Do you agree with the proposals to remove inappropriate threats of criminal sanctions from penalty fare reminder letters?
Yes. It seems strange that a government department should ask such a question. Are you suggesting that it could ever be right for TOCs to be free to bully and intimidate passengers with threats which have no basis in law? If companies are profiting by inappropriate behaviour, the financial impact of behaving appropriately should not be cushioned.
In some of our examples above, it is clear that SWT routinely uses fear of the courts to intimidate and bully. Its interesting to see Twitter queries on what possible need there can be for groups of perhaps 7-9 revenue protection officers and British Transport Police officers to check tickets. In March this year, SWT even posted a picture of 5 police officers and 2 revenue support officers purportedly looking for 'various offences'. It appears that BTP may be seriously overstaffed.
Do you have any additional comments or suggestions that you believe the Government should consider when examining potential changes to the penalty fares system?
We have appended comments and suggestions to our basic replies to the preceding questions. These particularly refer to Stagecoach SWT, which is the principal operator in our area. There seems to be a much broader issue here. Pollution is killing people, but increasingly more people are on the move. The government has accepted the need for a considerable programme of investment in rail but not, apparently, that rail travel should be welcoming. Remember the positive difference that the army of ambassadors made to the Olympic Games? That spirit operates elsewhere. For example, travel by bus in the South Hampshire area is generally an agreeable experience, with drivers helpful and friendly.
Travel by train from a SWT station can be a miserable affair, with ill-trained staff challenging passengers at every opportunity. I was recently admonished for showing a barrier attendant my Southern Daysave ticket rather than putting it through the gate at Southampton Central, even though I explained politely that these ranger-type tickets have never worked SWT gates. And as soon as Southern started issuing these tickets in two parts (outward and return), I was not allowed through the barrier on my return to Southampton until I had produced the outward as well as the return ticket. Suppose I had innocently discarded the outward half? A penalty fare out of my pension perhaps?
The fact is that Stagecoach remains the aggressive operator exposed in the World in Action's "Cowboy Country" programme in 1996. The High Court refused to block transmission on the grounds that it would not be in the public interest to do so. Twenty years later Government has not acquired the circumspection of the judiciary in this respect. A system which dampened SWT's zeal for outrageous bullying and intimidation of confused or vulnerable passengers would therefore seem long overdue.
Stagecoach may be an extreme case. Founder Brian Souter told Scotland on Sunday that "ethics are not irrelevant but some are incapable with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed". Turning from ethics to empathy, he recently caused disgust by incorporating a long and cruel joke about mentally disabled people in a speech. Government should ensure that such people are not left in charge of public services, where they can militate against the evolution of a more decent society.
Other operators have demonstrated varying degrees of reasonableness, but incidents have arisen where it is tempting to wonder if they have taken the attitude that "if Stagecoach can get away with it, why shouldn't we?"
There is a fundamental need to move on from the "every passenger is a criminal" attitude of SWT. Interestingly, replies to tweeters on SWT's website take the line that revenue protection officers are deployed strategically in areas where fare evasion is believed to take place. This suggests that fares could be collected by a few strategically deployed ticket clerks, and the costs of operating penalty fares could be avoided, representing a double win for the industry. A roving ticket clerk body could also be deployed at stations where, for example, staff are sick, or long queues are known to form. That would leave serious cases, such as using two season tickets for either end of a commute, for the courts.
Such a change should improve relations between passengers and operators and could encourage rail travel, and hence profitability. As the Guardian of 22.5.2012 confirms, Passenger Focus has long been arguing for this kind of approach:
"Passenger Focus says it has received 400 complaints this year from rail passengers who say they have been unjustly fined or pursued through the courts. Train companies are making passengers pay disproportionate penalties for having the wrong ticket and criminalising people who have no intention of dodging fares, a government watchdog has warned.
According to Passenger Focus, draconian enforcement by revenue collectors is putting people who make an innocent mistake into the same group as those who deliberately avoid paying. Mike Hewitson, head of policy at the government-funded consumer body for the railways, said: "If you set out to not pay deliberately you deserve what you get; we all pay for people who fare dodge. But too many innocent people are being scooped up into the net. And the powers are totally out of proportion to the offence."
The watchdog says it has received 400 complaints this year from passengers who say they have been unjustly fined or even pursued through the courts for forgetting railcards, losing tickets they could prove they had purchased or travelling on the wrong train. Hewitson said: "Coupled with the fact we have a fares structure that doesn't make it easy to get it right, you ought to have a procedure in place that allows a little discretion."
It believes there is a greater, more willing use of the powers train operators have to impose penalties, which used to be employed only in cases of deliberate or repeated attempts to defraud.Examples collected by Passenger Focus include a man who forgot to print his tickets but was advised to board by the train conductor on showing his email confirmation, yet subsequently received a court summons for not having a valid ticket. A female passenger who forgot to bring the railcard she used to reduce a £14 advance fare to under £10 and was issued a penalty fare for £260 (twice the most expensive peak fare for that journey), despite being able to prove she did have a railcard.
Two elderly, disabled passengers who travelled home on an earlier train than booked after an accident, believing the train operator would understand their circumstances, were issued with a notice for £239 unpaid fares.
Passenger Focus said a growing proportion of correspondence, 13% last year, was from people protesting about penalties. It is calling on train operating companies to publish transparent accounts of how many people they fine.
Hewitson questioned whether current practice was purely a deterrent or partly revenue-raising. He said: "This is 400 people who've been unfairly treated, who have been found guilty in court of a criminal offence, or been asked for hundreds of pounds. The cost of getting it wrong is huge now."
The watchdog wants the train operators to introduce a code of practice with clear and consistent guidelines on how passengers who board without a valid ticket should be dealt with. It believes passengers should not face a criminal prosecution without proof of intent to defraud, and is asking for greater flexibility where a passenger can prove they bought a valid ticket but cannot produce the ticket when required.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, said: "They should be given a second chance. Passengers, when boarding a train, are entering a minefield of rules and regulations, some dating back to Victorian times."
Given the wide range of considerations we have outlined, we welcome the current initiative to reform the penalty fares system. However, it is doubtful whether it goes far enough. Train operators should be required to put their efforts into face-to-face service and ensuring that passengers can obtain the cheapest available ticket, instead of in wrong-footing them. "The minefield of rules and regulations" to which Anthony Smith refers should be seen as a cause for industry shame and should have no place in the twenty first century. With greed-obsessed operators such as Stagecoach, nothing will improve without tighter regulation. Excerpts from SWT's Twitter account this very day (20.4.2015):
* Incredibly rude staff at Syon Lane this morning. Made me feel like I had actually tried to dodge a fare. Very hands on. After getting off train I went to machine to check my usage (for travel expenses) and instant reaction was I was a fare dodger. Cornered me, badgered me and pestered until explained I had tapped in.
* Treated disgracefully because railcard expired, had to leave train because Visa not accepted. Station staff aggressive and rude. [SWT response: I appreciate your feelings, however you were travelling without a valid ticket so these actions are correct.] I understand the tickets were invalid, but the way they dealt with me was so inappropriate. Compassion / general kindness??
The railways should run a fair and efficient fares system, and make their services welcoming to the increasing numbers of people who use them. TOCs' Twitter accounts should be monitored by Passenger Focus, and evidence of any unreasonable treatment of passengers should bar an operator from being considered for future franchise awards.
Acknowledgements / Contact details
As always, thanks to everyone who has been kind enough to contact us. Without your support and input, this newsletter would not be possible. The newsletter is produced in good faith, based on reports and information from many individuals and sources including information identified from press and website research. Contributions are always welcome. We aim for accuracy at all times, because our good reputation depends on it. We do not use material which could be offensive or which appears unlikely to be correct.
Address for correspondence: Denis Fryer, 19 Fontwell Close, Calmore, Southampton, SO40 2TN (email@example.com).