Transport correspondent JEREMY CLACKSON on a government announcement intended to divert from the news that rail commuters are about to get shafted again
Rather than actually sorting out the on-going crisis over the terrible service provided by the operator that “runs” commuter trains on Southern, the Tory rail minister, Paul Maynard, has announced this morning that he is to use millions of pounds of public money to pay-off long-suffering passengers with a refund of one month’s travel costs.
Even Maynard and Croydon South’s Conservative MP Chris Philp, in their comments today, have effectively admitted it is “gesture” politics.
The timing appears particularly cynical, coming just as the rail industry announced the latest fare hike, at more than double the rate of inflation, to hit commuters in their wallets and purses from January 2.
In the end, it’s public money which Maynard, enthusiastically supported by Philp, is returning to the public. The announcement makes no mention of penalising Govia Thameslink, the operators who have been mismanaging the commuter lines so badly, or somehow forcing them to meet the multi-million-pound compensation bill out of their tax-payer-funded juicy private profits from running a public service into the ground.
According to a statement from the Department for Transport, “Southern rail passengers are to be repaid the equivalent of a month’s travel for the extraordinary disruption they have suffered.”
DafT estimates that 84,000 season ticket-holders will receive the compensation – with those using monthly or even weekly tickets also able to claim a refund. Typically, a month’s travel by train from Croydon’s Zone 5 stations into London costs around £160.
Interestingly, given that a senior civil servant told a meeting in Croydon earlier this year that it was his department’s politically driven aim to “break the unions” in the dispute over driver-only-operated trains, DafT’s announcement today lists a litany of failures with the service provided, only one of which is the series of strikes by the RMT union.
That is something which Philp might do well to consider when he talks about “breaking the strikes” planned over the coming month.
DafT says the compensation will be paid “to recognise the particular hardship of those who have suffered long delays, cancellations and disruption in recent months. This disruption is due to a number of causes including Network Rail track failures, engineering works, unacceptably poor performance by the operator and the actions of the RMT union”.
DafT also stated: “This is a one-off compensation payment and is in addition to the improved Delay Repay 15 compensation scheme, which will begin operation on Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) services from December 11.”
Maynard said: “This is a gesture in recognition of the problems people have faced.
“We’re working hard to get Network Rail and Southern to improve this network and get this railway working the way people expect. We are investing record amounts in improving our railways and we need everyone in the rail industry, including the unions, to work together to deliver for passengers.”
Govia Thameslink has the details of most season ticket-holders who will have given their details when purchasing their tickets. Passengers claiming against quarterly, monthly or weekly tickets must have bought travel for at least 12 weeks between April 24 and December 31 2016 to be eligible. DafT also said that the company will be able to consider proof of purchase from people claiming this compensation who are not registered with the company.
Eager to claim some credit for handing millions of pounds of public money over to the public, Philp said, “I am very pleased that the Government has agreed to my request for a one-month refund for season ticket-holders. This is a small gesture to recognise the misery and chaos that Southern has caused to commuters’ lives on a daily basis.
“More needs to be done however. I am seeing the Secretary of State pretty much weekly on this issue so that I can stress to him how important this is and the scale of the impact that Southern’s service is having on people’s lives.”
Philp maintains his call for Govia Thameslink to be stripped of the service – and today at City Hall, a Labour Assembly Member re-stated the offer from London Mayor Sadiq Khan for Transport for London to take over the suburban rail services, not only to improve their reliability but also to bring them under the fare freeze applied to the capital’s Tubes and buses.
“If the government aren’t going to freeze their fares, it’s time they let the Mayor get on with it,” said Florence Eshalomi, the Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark, after it was confirmed that commuter fares are to rise by an average 2.3 per cent next month.
“Passengers on London’s suburban rail routes deserve better.
“Everyone knew there was a rise on the way but that doesn’t take out the sting for passengers. You only need to look so far as the poor service Southern Rail passengers have experienced in recent months to get an idea of the level of resentment this increase could cause.
“The Mayor has said loud and clear that he’d freeze fares on services under his control. The Chancellor could have got the ball rolling on rail devolution during last month’s Autumn Statement, but he didn’t and it was a missed opportunity.”
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