#SouthernFail election demands from the Association of British Commuters

With the snap general election fast approaching, there is no better time for the Association of British Commuters to restate the demands we’ve been making throughout the Southern Rail crisis. We will be addressing all former and prospective MPs with these demands and requesting their full response – so we can tell you which candidates have the best positions on Southern Rail in advance of June 8th.

1. Independent Public Inquiry into the relationship between Govia Thameslink Railway and the Department for Transport.

2. The return of guaranteed assistance for disabled passengers on services currently branded as Southern Rail – best achieved through the “Guard Guarantee”.

3. Immediate removal of the TGSN contract from Govia and passenger representation in any solution; which must take into account the findings of the Chris Gibb report.

Why are these demands so important and how will they solve the Southern Rail crisis? – our demands in depth:

1. Independent public inquiry into the relationship between Govia and the DfT, to encompass civil service ethics.

Southern Rail is not a typical franchise. It is a subcontractor to the government in what has been one of the UK’s most poorly judged and catastrophic rail management contracts. The company has been in special measures for nearly two years, and is known to be in serious breach of its performance benchmarks – issues that far predate the industrial action on the network. To this day, the government postpones its verdict on force majeure (Southern’s defence for its excessive failure) and has just succeeded in burying the Chris Gibb report under the veil of ‘purdah’ rules around the upcoming general election. The Gibb report is believed to give a final analysis of the true responsibility for the Southern Rail crisis, and was reported by Graeme Paton of The Times to be heavily critical of the government’s role in particular – his source said: “Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Network Rail don’t come well out of this, but the report is scathing of the DfT. It is dynamite.” Meanwhile, the DfT are already under investigation by parliamentary watchdog the National Audit Office for their management of the GTR franchise.

It is also widely believed that the year-long industrial dispute on Southern is in fact a dispute-by-proxy, with the Department for Transport in the driving seat. Indeed, the civil servant Peter Wilkinson gave forewarning of the industrial upheaval back in February 2016 at a town hall meeting organised by Croydon MP Gavin Barwell. He said: “Over the next three years we’re going to be having punch ups and we will see industrial action and I want your support… They can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place.” The same Peter Wilkinson, MD of Passenger Services at the DfT, was also recently the subject of a Guardian expose over the allegation that he awarded contracts to Govia while also the director and majority shareholder of First Class Partnerships; a consultancy that had Govia as a long-standing client.

Questions about the oversight of the civil service do not end there. Govia is also the owner of the so-called Independent Penalty Fares Appeal Service, itself the subject of a Guardian expose in February 2015 which showed that customers were paying unacceptable ‘admin fees’ even in the case of a successful appeal. Shockingly, the Independent Penalty Fare Appeals Service is still in Govia’s hands, despite them also running both Southern and Southeastern franchises. In the case of the Southern management contract in particular, we believe that the issue of penalty fares requires a comprehensive review. It is a simple fact of their contract that Govia is paid a flat fee for running services, so the only way they can logically increase their income is by cost-cutting, deskilling, and adapting staff roles towards revenue protection (and thus, away from disabled access).

It is vital that the Department for Transport are finally compelled to release the details of their management contract with Govia, and the ‘remedial plan’ that announced their adapted performance benchmarks back in February 2016. Both these documents remain heavily redacted; allowing both Govia and the Department for Transport to completely evade accountability for a crisis that has already cost the taxpayer £38 million and counting. And that’s not to mention the total impact on the lives, families and livelihoods of the public – including an estimated £300 million loss to the economy in the South.

2. The return of guaranteed assistance for disabled passengers on services currently branded as Southern Rail – best achieved through the “Guard Guarantee”.

Conditions on Southern Rail have improved for regular commuters over the last three months, but we should not forget that this period has actually been the most stressful time yet for disabled passengers; dozens of whom have been left behind on platforms or have even had to throw themselves between the doors of trains to get assistance. Hundreds more – especially wheelchair users who live at rural stations – are now anxious about whether they can still spontaneously travel, since Southern Rail have suggested there is “no cast-iron guarantee” that assistance will be available at all stations.

Contrary to their claim that 0.06% of trains will run without a second staff member in “exceptional circumstances”, Southern Rail’s estimate of the number of trains running DOO keeps changing. The estimate was recently reported to be over 8,200 a year, and the most recent internal report that ABC has seen suggests 50+ trains were running without an on-board supervisor allocated on Sunday 21st May alone. This is a far cry from the 1 in 1750 trains that Southern Rail originally claimed would run without a second staff member – an estimate that would have equated to one to two trains per day. Considering Southern Rail’s contractual incentives (as queried in part one above), there are few in doubt that disabled people’s access will now be increasingly compromised by Southern Rail for the sake of cost-cutting on the network; and the redirection of resources into revenue protection.

The guarantee of a second member of staff on trains is a binary point and needs to finally be recognised as such. Unstaffed trains running to unstaffed stations constitute a breach of the Equality Act in creating a ‘policy, practice or criterion’ which actively discriminates – and this is the case whether there are 2, 50 or 2,000 unstaffed trains per day. It is not just ABC, disabled passengers and striking railway workers who are saying this – only last month we saw the highly respected railwayman Peter Rayner (one of the original architects of DOO under British Rail) break ranks with the rail industry to say the same.

Adequate staffing to ensure that Southern Rail conforms to the Equality Act can be achieved in one of two ways: 1) by a guaranteed member of staff on every train or 2) the staffing of every station from first to last. When you consider that 33 rural stations on the Southern network are completely unstaffed, and add that to the vital public security benefits of having a properly trained guard on the train; the restoration of the guard guarantee seems undeniably  the best solution. It has the added benefit of ending the industrial dispute and ensuring that any major changes to working practices are done slowly and surely, with proper care to camera equipment, dispatch procedure, and disabled access.

3. Immediate removal of the TGSN contract from Govia and passenger representation in any solution; which must take into account the findings of the Chris Gibb report.

We have campaigned all year for Govia to lose its management contract, and this remains an immediate demand of our campaign; as well as dozens of other passenger groups and MPs across London and the South. Public trust in the company is at such a catastrophic level that even the Sussex Chambers of Commerce have spent months calling for shareholders to divest from Govia’s parent company, The Go Ahead Group. One major shareholder, JP Morgan, finally divested from the brand just yesterday.

The removal of the TGSN franchise should be accompanied by the immediate publication of the suppressed Chris Gibb report on the true extent of the failings of Southern Rail. There is no excuse whatsoever for this report to be suppressed until after the General Election, when it offers us, finally, a proper analysis on the parties to blame for the Southern Rail crisis. The DfT’s unique management contract with Govia Thameslink Railway was always a poorly judged and unwieldy type of mega-franchise, and it may be that Gibb has recommended that the franchise be broken up into smaller parts. Whatever advice the report suggests, we demand that it is taken into account; and that passengers are given significant representation in any solution.

Furthermore, we believe that the endless industrial dispute on Southern Rail could have been easily solved back in September with a ScotRail type agreement, guaranteeing a second member of staff on all trains and thus conforming to the requirements of the Equality Act and the DfT’s Public Sector Equality Duty. The real circumstances of the industrial dispute, and the details of Southern Rail’s management contract, have been shrouded in secrecy; and we suspect that with the endless talks between Southern management, RMT and Aslef, we are watching little more than a farce. There has to be a limit to the carte blanche with which this company has been allowed to operate – and a proper calling to account of the DfT over public safety and accessibility standards – before this dispute really does spread nationwide.

ABC’s election plan

We will be asking all former MPs and candidates in the Southern Rail region to respond to the points above, and to account for their position on the Southern Rail crisis over the course of 2016-17. As always, we extend our invitation to MPs from every political party and will endorse all those who wish to support our three campaign demands

For passengers, we are soon to launch a “Southern Fail election app”, which will come pre-loaded with all major parties, MPs and constituencies, in order to help commuters be heard on their feelings about this vital election issue.

On party politics and the renationalisation debate:

As a campaign, we do not support any one party, and insist on staying focused on the issues of justice and transparency in UK transport; on which our non-profit organisation was founded. We can only succeed in this aim by being scrupulously focused on these issues, and our lobbying on the Southern Rail crisis will continue in exactly the same way whatever government ends up in power.

It’s also important for us to make clear that we do not take a position on the renationalisation debate – and this is not because we like to sit on the fence! Rather, it is important for the clarity of our #SouthernFail campaign that it does not get conflated into a general call for renationalisation. The Southern Rail crisis is unique because it is driven by the worst of both private industry and state stranglehold – and it’s essential that we keep attention focused on these specific circumstances.

To stay in touch with ABC’s election news, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The truth about Chris Gibb and Southern Rail’s late night timetable changes…

Southern Rail’s late night timetable changes begin tomorrow, after the announcement earlier this month that late night trains between London Victoria and East Croydon will be cancelled indefinitely.

This has been met with angry reactions from late-night travelers, shift workers and even TfL, who complained that they had only been given three weeks notice of the changes, instead of the standard three months, according to Inside Croydon. For commuters, the notice period wasn’t quite so generous – we got just two weeks.

The reason for these changes is to allow Network Rail to perform essential maintenance work at night. It’s not in itself a bad plan, as East Croydon to Victoria operates as a 24-hour railway, making it particularly poor at resilience. But, why was this announcement so sudden? We asked this question of several people in the rail establishment and it led us to an answer – the late-night timetable changes are a recommendation from the Chris Gibb report. If you’d like to substantiate this, take a look at the recommendations he made for the West Coast Main Line in 2012 (same plan was used) or pose a question to Southern Rail, Network Rail or the Department for Transport directly.

Chris Gibb’s report has been suppressed by the government for nearly five months, and will now be held back until after the General Election. Chris Gibb is the star railwayman brought in to fix the problems on Southern Rail back in September 2016, so it is outrageous that the government refuse to release this report when by doing so they could finally explain to the public why the franchise has gone so badly wrong. In the meantime, MPs like Chris Philp still try to push the agenda of anti-strike laws in advance of the General Election – wouldn’t it be more reasonable for him to assess all parties’ true culpability for the crisis first and actually read the Gibb report?

It has been reported by Graeme Paton of The Times that the report is heavily critical of the government’s role in the Southern Rail crisis. His source said: “GTR and Network Rail don’t come well out of this, but the report is scathing of the DfT. It is dynamite.” It is not difficult to imagine, therefore, why it is being suppressed until after the General Election (if indeed it will ever reach the public). In all our months of chasing the report through FOI requests, just one MP has stood up and chased the report in Parliament: Caroline Lucas finally got an answer from Rail Minister Paul Maynard last month, calling his decision “deeply undemocratic and an absolute disgrace.”

ABC’s co-founder Emily Yates challenged Southern Rail on BBC Sussex two weeks ago – claiming that the late-night timetable changes were a recommendation in the Chris Gibb report and that this was being deliberately concealed. When pushed by the host Neil Pringle, Southern’s Director of Operations Planning admitted that he “had not seen the final Gibb report”. A single question now hangs in the air: If Southern Rail’s own Director of Operations Planning hasn’t seen the Gibb report, then just how badly is this company being micro-managed by the Department for Transport?

 

ABC will continue to ask questions throughout the General Election period, and we’ll soon be launching an updated version of our #SouthernFail app to help you tell your MP how you feel about their performance on Southern Rail! Stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook channels for updates.

If you’d like to support our upcoming protests, election plans and legal action against the DfT, please sign up to our newsletter here.

A full list of late-night services to be scrapped can be found here.

London Bridge Protest this Wednesday: ABC join Transport for All for Southern Rail challenge!

With all that Southern Rail commuters have suffered over the year-long rail crisis, there is one group that has been under-represented. Disabled and elderly people are suffering daily uncertainty since the implementation of DOO, with the roll back of ‘turn up and go’ access at dozens of stations.

We have fought as hard as we can on this issue and have been met with a wall of silence from both Southern Rail and the government. So, we’ll be taking to the station platform once again to make our voices heard; and stand in solidarity with those who no longer have the freedom and flexibility that the rest of us take for granted.

SIGN UP HERE: Please join us for the London Bridge protest this Wednesday at 6pm.

Where and When?

17:00-17:30 – Short briefing at the Heeltap bar, Borough Highstreet, SE1 1NX, before walking together from 17:30 to London Bridge Station
18:00 – Meet on the upper concourse of London Bridge Station for the start of the protest. The protest will be taking place outside the building.

The Message

Transport for All hear daily of the unacceptable treatment faced by so many disabled and older travellers on our Railways. Whether it’s booked assistance failing to turn up, inaccessible platforms or a lack of accessible facilities on trains – what is clear is that our railways are failing disabled and older passengers.

Southern Rail’s withdrawal of ‘turn up and go’ assistance comes after the controversial introduction of driver only operation on their network. Without guards to provide assistance there is no guarantee that disabled and older people will be able to board or leave the train at unmanned stations.

The normalisation of 24-hour advance booking across the entire Southern Rail network is a giant backwards step for access rights and we refuse to accept that disabled people should be paying the price.

Speakers

Speakers will include the paralympian Anne Wafula Strike, Faryal Velmi and Alan Benson of TfA, and junior doctor Hannah Barham Brown.

**We’ll also be hosting an exclusive premiere of a new song from “Southern Fail: The Musical”, performed by Mark Brailsford of Brighton’s The Treason Show!**

Hannah Barham-Brown, junior doctor:

“As a doctor I have no idea when I will be leaving work or even going to work. It’s impossible for me to book 24 hours in advance for my travel, and I cannot be 2 hours late for work at a busy hospital while I wait to board a train. We’re not asking rail companies for perfection, we’re just asking for the very basic access that we need to go about our everyday lives.”

Faryal Velmi, Director of Transport for All:

“It’s shameful that Southern Rail are allowing disabled passengers to bear the brunt of their failures to deliver a reliable service. We have heard daily from disabled transport users stranded on freezing platforms, or forced to crawl onto trains when rail companies have failed to assist them. This unacceptable backwards step for access simply cannot be allowed to stand so we’re coming together to demand that Southern Rail reverse their decision”

Emily Yates, Co-founder of Association of British Commuters:

“We believe that Southern Rail is turning the clock back on access rights; just another part of the collateral damage that has been caused by the Department for Transport’s year-long war with the unions. We urgently need nationwide standards of accessibility in relation to DOO – not only for the sake of disabled travelers but also to prevent the dispute spreading nationwide. Ultimately, this is the responsibility of the Department for Transport, whose duty it is to hold train operating companies to account and ensure they comply with Equality law.”

About our alliance with Transport for All

Transport for All are the UK’s foremost defenders of access rights for the disabled and we were overjoyed to welcome them to our judicial review case last month. They have now written to the High Court asking to intervene and provide evidence of the extensive impact the Southern Rail crisis has had – and still has – on disabled passengers.

Transport for All will be represented by Chris Fry, the award-winning Equality and Human Rights lawyer who recently gained a significant Supreme Court victory on the right to bus access.

We are looking forward to working with them to set a new precedent for rail access rights – the aim of our case is to compel the Department for Transport to accept their responsibility for enforcing the Equality Act 2010, and ensure that all train operating companies comply in future.

Please join us at London Bridge this Wednesday! – SIGN UP HERE

Legal Update: Transport for All to intervene in ABC’s judicial review

Work continues towards our judicial review and we are delighted to announce that the disabled and older people’s charity Transport for All has now asked to intervene in the case. Transport for All have written today to the Royal Court of Justice, to express their interest in submitting further witness statements expressing the full range of assistance failures disabled people have had to deal with during the tenure of Southern Rail.

Like ABC, Transport for All has received dozens of complaints from people experiencing regular failures of assistance on Southern Rail. They are now being represented by Chris Fry of Fry Law on the matter – the very same team behind Doug Paulley’s recent victory for bus accessibility at the Supreme Court.

It is the first time that the Secretary of State’s obligations, as relates to the Equality Act and rail franchising, will come in front of the Court; meaning that the case is very likely to be precedent-setting for rail transport. ABC could not be happier to hear that such a well-respected organisation and law firm will now be joining the case.

With in-depth legal work continuing on the Equality of Access issue, we have also made some minor amendments to the case this month. Such amendments are not unusual in the judicial review process, which is rather less combative than regular litigation. This means that our new deadline for a response from the DfT is now 23rd March. Given this delay, we do not believe the Court will find any further extension requests from the DfT to be reasonable. We feel confident, therefore, that we will have their response by 23rd March, and it will then be a matter of awaiting the Court’s decision on whether the judicial review can proceed.

Statement from Transport for All

Accessible public transport is a life-line to inclusion for many disabled people who disproportionately rely on it to go about their everyday lives. The Southern Rail crisis has caused disruption and misery to disabled and older people, leaving many unable to travel to work and increasingly isolated. Yet throughout the strikes the Department for Transport has remained silent on this issue.

This case would be the first test case to the Secretary of State’s duty to uphold Disability Equality in the franchising process, and could cause a seismic shift in the Department for Transport’s approach to protecting the rights of disabled and older people.

Transport for All hope that our experience in the wide range of obstacles disabled and older people can face when accessing the transport network, and the impact of Southern Rail’s failures on our ability to travel will assist the court when they consider the case.

Transport for All’s accessible transport hotline receives dozens of calls from disabled and older people who find themselves unable to access the rail network because they simply can’t rely on assistance from staff.

“On roughly two-thirds of my journeys, when I arrive at Victoria there is no one there to assist me with a ramp, even though the staff at my home station have phoned ahead to let Southern Rail staff at Victoria know. So I end up stuck on the train” commented Chris Stapleton, a wheelchair user. “The effect of Southern’s unreliable assistance is that every train journey becomes horribly stressful, and every time I arrive at my destination I have a tight knot of anxiety in my stomach – will there be someone with a ramp to assist me? Will I be locked into the train again, or have to get random strangers to go and hunt for staff, or be forced to shout or press the emergency alarm?”

For more information or comment please contact catherine@transportforall.org.uk

Have you been affected by accessibility issues on Southern Rail?

If so, please do get in touch with Transport for All, or email Catherine directly on catherine@transportforall.org.uk.

You can also report your experience to ABC via contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com. We will then let you know when we will be taking further witness statements.

Donations to our legal campaign

Our next round of crowdfunding for the case will open after we receive permission from the Court. In the meantime, we are running a big campaign on very slim resources. If you are in a position to donate to ABC, you can do so here.

Commuters and small businesses should support the ACES campaign: addressing Southern Rail shareholders directly…

With the Department for Transport as secretive as ever and even now concealing their decision on whether Govia is in default of its contract, commuters feel abandoned by their MPs and government. As a grass-roots campaign with limited resources, we have done as much as we can in taking the government to task, and await news from the Court next month on whether we can proceed with our judicial review.

In the meantime, the ongoing silence from MPs is shocking; even while the DfT is subject to ongoing leaks, a judicial review funded by passengers, a National Audit Office investigation and a soon-to-be-released ‘dynamite’ report from Chris Gibb. All this takes place on top of a seemingly endless industrial dispute, believed to be precedent-setting for the entire UK. The question has to be asked: if Govia cannot be trusted to run trains, how can they be trusted to act as a proxy on matters of policy?

Southern Rail is in a unique contractual relationship with the Department for Transport. They have no financial incentive to end the dispute, having already been paid a flat fee for their ‘management’ term. While no typical franchise would have let such disruption go on for so long – Southern Rail can, because they are able to pass all losses from strike action on to the taxpayer. (This includes £38 million to compensate them for lack of fare revenue during the strikes, £15 million for season ticket holder compensation, and a £300 million estimated cost to the economy.)

Govia’s only possible financial incentive lies in cutting costs, and we have more than enough reason to suspect that this is just the incentive that will drive the outcome of the industrial dispute. This concern reflects more than just the unions’ fear of what will happen after this particular franchise ends. We have recently seen Southern Rail remove the guarantee of ‘turn up and go’ travel from 33 stations on their network, reducing it to zero. This backwards step in accessibility is one that former DfT and Govia advisor Ann Bates OBE has warned could set back disabled access by thirty years.

Could it be that we are allowing the most toxic and mistrusted company in the UK to decide the benchmarks of safety and accessibility that may later be in use all over the country?

The ACES campaign: boycott and divestment from The Go-Ahead Group

ACES is an alliance of Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses, who hit the press with their ‘Great Train Robbers’ protest at Eastbourne station last Monday. They represent 5,000 small business owners and 20,000 employees in East Sussex – many of whom have been brought to their knees by the shockwaves of the Southern Rail crisis. ACES’ current campaign is pioneered by Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce boss Christina Ewbank, and targets the shareholders of Govia’s parent company, the Go-Ahead Group.

The Go-Ahead Group owns 65% of Govia, with the other 35% owned by the French transport company Keolis. Significant shareholders in Go-Ahead include:@johambro, @ameriprise, @Investec, @vanguard_group, @PremierInvestIA, @jpmorgan and @StandardLifeplc. For a full list of Go-Ahead shareholders, click here.

Open letters were dispatched by ACES at the beginning of the month asking shareholders to “reconsider their portfolio”. Copies of the letters can be downloaded below:

jo-hambro-open-letter

ameriprise-open-letter

investec-open-letter

investec-john-mcnab-open-letter

premier-portfolio-managers-open-letter

You can stay in touch with Christina Ewbank and the Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce through Twitter: @EwbankChristina and @EBChamber

Chambers of Commerce unite for Southern Rail Protest- this Monday at Eastbourne Station, 6:45 am

The Alliance of Chambers of Commerce (ACES) recently launched a boycott and divestment campaign aimed at Southern Rail parent company Go Ahead, writing to major shareholders Ameriprise, Investec, JO Hambro, Standard Life and Premier to warn them of their association with this now toxic brand. Their campaign, led by Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce boss Christine Ewbank, takes to the street outside Eastbourne station on Monday morning. Please support them if you can!

We don’t normally expect our local Chambers of Commerce to take to the streets in protest – but, as every commuter on Southern Rail knows, these are hardly normal times. The ‘Great Train Robbers’ protest takes place this Monday 20th February at 6.45am outside the taxi rank of the train station (closest to the Enterprise Centre). If you live in Eastbourne, please stop by and support them; even if only for twenty minutes on the way to your morning train.

Unlike larger businesses, who may be able to command a private audience and quiet compensation arrangement with Southern Rail; thousands of small businesses have suffered just as much as commuters. ACES represents 4,000 employers and 15,000 employees across the region, and it is long past time their voices were heard.

The Chambers of Commerce Protest is non-politically affiliated and addresses all parties this Monday in an urgent call for reason and a fast resolution to the industrial dispute.

Statement from Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce:

We are calling for The Great Train Robbers:

  • Chris Grayling MP (Secretary of State for Transport)
  • Paul Maynard MP (Minister for Rail)
  • Mick Cash (General Secretary, RMT)
  • Mick Whelan (General Secretary, ASLEF)
  • Charles Horton (Chief Executive Officer, GTR)
  • David Brown (Chief Executive, Go-Ahead)

to work together NOW to bring a fast resolution to the Southern Rail dispute before more people lose their livelihoods.

Collectively, these agencies have robbed over £308,000,000 from the local economy, endangered jobs and our members businesses. We ask that you join us for the protest.

We do not take this action lightly.

As a Chamber we remain non-political.  But part of our responsibility is to stand up on behalf of our members when our business interests are threatened.  Already, we have seen lower footfall in our town centre and decreased attendance at our major tourism events and venues. We have heard first hand of the struggles our business community is having and the loss of jobs as a direct impact of the strikes and the poor performance of GTR.

We do not apportion blame to any one particular agency or individual – it is the collective failings of all parties in this joint enterprise. We cannot allow this dispute and poor service to continue indefinitely. It is well over a year since this disruption started – it must now end.

Join us – this Monday 20th February – 6.45am outside the taxi rank of the train station (closest to the Enterprise Centre).

Equality of Access Crisis: Disabled passengers deserve answers – Letter to Charles Horton from ABCD

ABCD is a group of disabled passengers within the ABC community who wish to raise their voices on the access problems they are facing on Southern Rail. The removal of guaranteed assistance has been feared for months now, and many people now feel they are victims of indirect discrimination through the loss of spontaneous travel.

The following letter has been dispatched to the CEO of Southern Rail, Charles Horton, and asks him to properly address the impact of the changes his company is implementing. It has also been copied to the Rail Delivery Group, and the Ministers for Transport, Rail and Disabled People. If you have been affected by the incidents described in the letter, please scroll to the end to find out how to send your own version.

Dear Mr. Horton,

We at ABCD (Association of British Commuters Disabled Passengers) are very concerned about the discriminatory nature of the latest Exceptional Circumstances list within the Aslef train driver agreement.

Southern Rail recently rolled back the provision of ‘turn up and go’ travel from 33 stations to zero, and we are incredibly concerned that they are taking this regrettable backwards step in accessibility. We believe this contravenes the Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010, and the protections from discrimination assured by the Human Rights Act 1998.

ABCD is also deeply concerned about a recent RAIL magazine article where a Southern Rail spokesperson suggested that “only” those in wheelchairs would be inconvenienced by not having an OBS onboard – a comment we find deeply offensive.  Passengers with a range of physical and mental disabilities are disadvantaged by not having an OBS on board. The spokesperson’s comment, separating disabled people into “types”, is highly discriminatory in nature.

Disabled people should be treated equally no matter their impairment; removing the guaranteed second person from the train removes the rights of disabled people to work and enjoy leisure time just like any other member of society. We have made great strides in UK transport since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was introduced, and now Southern Rail wants to turn the clock back.

Thanks to Southern always having a guard on their longer distance services, we were able to travel spontaneously before the removal of guards.  Since the OBS system has come in, there have been countless stories of disabled passengers being left on the train at unstaffed stations, left stranded on platforms and insufficient support for transition to follow on journeys.

We have been told that we can book 24 hours in advance for support; however, this advance booking has been well known for its unreliability, particularly in recent journeys made by our members on Southern. As most services in the UK have a guaranteed second person, there shouldn’t be a need to book 24 hours in advance; which rules out all chance for a disabled person to live a spontaneous life.

We ask you to remember that disabled people don’t just live at the beginning of a route, so if a train goes without an OBS, it will affect those down the whole line, wherever they decide to get on and off anywhere on that route. This also applies to the OBS who change during the route, for example, we may have an OBS from say London Victoria to Three Bridges, but then another one from Three Bridges to Bognor Regis. Drivers often do not seem to know whether they have an OBS onboard or not until the last minute, and have been caught in many situations where they have been put in the dilemma of stopping the train and providing assistance, or leaving a wheelchair user behind on the platform.

The removal of guaranteed assistance and scrapping of ‘turn up and go’ is having a huge impact on disabled people’s lives. We are constantly worrying about every stage of our journey, not knowing if we can get on or off a train, or if there will be assistance at our destination station. This is leading to worsening mental health issues and a great deal of worry, because having a guaranteed second person is essential for our peace of mind and personal security. The additional anxiety, and extra physical and mental exhaustion in navigating travel, is likely to exacerbate disabled people’s impairments further.

We have heard of wheelchair users and other helpful passengers throwing themselves between doors to prevent the train departing, or even breaking into the guard’s cupboard to assist disabled passengers. On Thursday evening at Victoria station, a Southern Rail driver chastised a wheelchair user in front of a carriage full of passengers, saying “he has been told he should not be travelling at night”. With all that Southern Rail is doing in removing the right to ‘turn up and go’ travel, it is hard to avoid seeing this as a reflection of company culture.

Since it is now well known that issues around staffing and DOO are not solely the decision of the train operating company, we must address the Department for Transport too. Surely it is in the government’s interests to keep the second person on every train as this would aid people of various disabilities to get a job/keep their job, strengthening UK plc as well as reducing the reliance on benefits. There are numerous reports on the economic benefits of a disability-inclusive approach, without even mentioning the moral dimension.

We urge Charles Horton to think about the repercussions of these changes on others, who may be totally reliant on public transport. On behalf of ABCD members we would ask you to reconsider the damaging implications for disabled and less able passengers, and make the reasonable adjustments necessary to comply with your duties; considering this within the exceptional circumstances list specifically.

We look forward to your reply and ask that you address the matter of the precedents being set for disabled access, rather than repeating platitudes. The repeated assurance that there will be ‘more customer service than ever before’ does not hold weight when we are seeing the right to ‘turn up and go’ travel removed, and hearing regularly of discriminatory comments and actions from Southern Rail.

Sincerely,

James Welling, Sarah McStravick, Tilly Simmonds, Kaye McIntosh, Jo Bayly, Steve Salford, Edward Vermeer

on behalf of: Association of British Commuters Disabled Passengers

 

Fellow Southern Rail passengers who have been affected by access failures on Southern Rail are welcome to send their own copy of this letter, or use it as a template. If you would also like to sign this letter publicly, please let us know through our contact form.

Address the letter to Charles Horton, CEO of Southern Rail:

charles.horton@gtrailway.com

Copy the letter to:

CEO of Rail Delivery Group: paul.plummer@raildeliverygroup.com; Minister for Transport: chris.grayling@dft.gsi.gov.uk; Minister for Rail: paul.maynard@dft.gsi.gov.uk; Minister for Disabled People: penny.mordaunt.mp@parliament.uk.