Our transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON, reports on the latest exhibition of discontent from angry commuters
Commuters are planning possibly the biggest demonstration yet against Southern Rail’s poor service and the Tory government’s role in undermining the railway network, to be held at Victoria Station later this week.
Kitted out in judges’ wigs, robber outfits and carrying swag bags, members of the Association of British Commuters and the campaign group Bring Back British Rail will be calling for greater transparency over the agreements and payments between DafT – the Department for Transport – and Govia Thameslink, or GTR, the operator which is in charge of Southern and Thameslink’s services.
“The Southern Rail crisis cannot be resolved until we achieve the clarity that can only be found in essential documents currently redacted or undisclosed by the DfT,” said one of the organisers of the platform demo, due to start at 6pm on Thursday.
“They have so far failed to reveal these documents, either to lawyers, the public or to the parliamentary select committee for Transport itself.”
Using the hashtag #SouthernJustice, they are calling this “the commuter’s last resort”, and are demanding full disclosure of a raft of public interest documents, including:
- documents referred to in the franchise agreement
- the breach notice served on Govia on July 7 2015 (which the DfT has a clear duty to publish), and
- a complete copy of February’s remedial plan, by which it is possible to assess whether Govia has been compliant.
As Inside Croydon has reported, GTR operates a contract for the Tory government-run DafT, rather than a franchise as is used on other parts of the national rail network.
And senior DafT officials have spoken publicly of their intention to “break” the trades unions over staffing levels and the use of on-train guards.
“Much of the media focuses on a simple narrative of unions versus management,” an ABC organiser said.
“We believe this depiction is vastly insufficient in analysing the real timescale and issues behind the crisis, and more worryingly still, the dangers behind a unique kind of ‘management contract’ that may see GTR acting at the behest of the government, while the DfT continue to avoid all transparency and accountability.”
Services are gradually returning to “normal”, by Southern’s abnormal standards, after the emergency timetable which was introduced over the summer, but there remain problems. Yesterday, nearly 1 in 4 GTR services were running 10 minutes or more late, or were cancelled altogether.
An extraordinarily broad range of politicians have been calling for GTR to lose its control, at least of commuter services within the Greater London area, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Chris Philp, the Tory MP for Croydon South. Today, Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, an MP for Brighton, said, “GTR is so clearly unfit for purpose that the contract should be taken off them immediately”.
And this month, Croydon’s Labour group finally got round to launching a petition of its own on the issue.
Summer Dean, ABC campaign spokesperson, said: “Commuters are not getting the justice, or basic service they deserve. Our call for justice relates not only to untangling the truth behind the crisis, but is also made on behalf of hundreds of thousands of commuters who deserve proper compensation, health and safety rights, equality of access, and a basic level of service and reliability.”
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