London Bridge tonight: DPAC and ABC protest GTR disabled access policies

We’ll be joining Disabled People Against the Cuts for a ‘People’s Picket’ at London Bridge station (Shard entrance) from 5 – 6pm tonight. RSVP here.

The controversial staff training guide released on Friday has sent a shockwave through out communities. It has never been more important to stand in solidarity with disabled people and everyone who will be affected either now or in the future by this insitutionalised breach of the Equality Act.

We have now been granted permission by the BTP, and hope that we will be welcoming several MPs at the protest. Please join us tonight and stand in solidarity with all passengers affected by #Rail2020.

#KeepTheGuardOnTheTrain

The GTR staff training guide that the RMT released on Friday was even more shocking than we feared. It also showed that the company has now begun a ‘call ahead’ policy when boarding passengers, which has led to members of our groups being refused boarding even though the train was sitting right in front of them at the station.

The removal of a guaranteed guard from the train creates a loophole that we believe will only lead to further, institutionalised breaches of the Equality Act. With the ‘call ahead’ policy, it is now clear that this will have an equivalent effect on pre-booked and ‘turn up and go’ passengers, so the myth that pre-booking will be a solution under DOO is disproven.

Removing a wheelchair user from their chosen form of transport because of the company’s inability to staff the network adequately is blatant discrimination. We do not consider taxis a reasonable adjustment, especially with the extended waiting times at unstaffed/rural stations. It is only a matter of time before this Equality Act breach is confronted in court – and that’s not our opinion, but the verdict of a 2-year buried Rail Delivery Group report on the matter.

We believe the current industrial dispute could be solved easily with the simple guarantee of a second member of staff. This is clearly the precedent on which all future staffing plans will be based, and the easiest way to ensure the principles of the Equality Act are met. There can be no justification for an endless taxpayer-funded dispute that aims to break a trade union at the expense of disabled people’s rights.

We have little faith in current consultations involving the DfT and the RDG, who have already shown themselves to be deliberately evading this issue. There is no sense in professing to take disabled access seriously when on the other hand, you are trying to remove an important staffing precedent from workers and passengers alike.

 

For more info, email us: contact@abcommuters.com

 

 

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EXCLUSIVE: full copy of GTR’s staff training document, which discriminates against disabled passengers

Further to the RMT’s announcement this morning about GTR’s latest disabled access policy, we are now able to provide a copy of the full document: Pit Stop GTR

Having studied the ‘Pit Stop’ staff training document in full, we would like to emphasise that Southern Rail’s public comments today on the issue have been extremely misleading. Here’s what they have said on Twitter so far:

southern out of context 2.PNGsouthern out of context.PNG

We strongly object to their claim that the staff training document has been ‘taken out of context’, and now present the three main areas where it discriminates against, humiliates, and even potentially endangers passengers.

Pit Stop: Key principles for managing station dwell times

Pit Stop GTR applies to all four brands of Govia Thameslink Railway and focuses on cutting down dwell times at stations. From the very first page, the document clearly spells out the ‘key principles and priorities’ of dispatch: Safety, Speed, Efficiency and Professionalism. Nowhere is the principle of equality of access even referred to in what is clearly a core training document for staff.

Pages 3 – 5 on ‘Right Time Start’ and the 20, 30, 40 dispatch process are nothing new – these kind of management initiatives have been around for at least 20 years. To be clear: there is nothing wrong with the rail industry working on improving dwell times – but there is everything wrong with a policy that priorities this to the exclusion of basic human rights – and completely ignores the context of destaffing and the removal of the onboard staff guarantee. This document shows a ruthless disregard for the welfare of a wide range of vulnerable passengers, solely for the sake of efficiency.

Now more than ever, we urge all disability rights campaigners to demand the full and transparent publication of all research on dwell times. This call should be made urgently to the Department for Transport and include the lobbying of the Rail Delivery Group for the immediate release of the #SDGreport.

Pit Stop: a GTR staff training document proving the rollback of disabled access

This document proves the argument we have been making for two years: that the removal of a guaranteed guard from the train creates a loophole that will inevitably lead to institutionalised breaches of the Equality Act. With the ‘call ahead’ policy described below, it also shows that this will have an equal effect on pre-booked or ‘turn up and go’ passengers. Indeed, there is no mention of booking or turn up and go on this document: so the myth that pre-booking will ensure successful journeys under DOO is dispelled.

Removing a wheelchair user from their chosen form of transport because of the company’s inability to staff the network adequately is blatant discrimination. We do not consider taxis a reasonable adjustment, especially with the extended waiting times at unstaffed rural stations. It is only a matter of time before this Equality Act breach is confronted in court – and that’s not our opinion, but the verdict of the 2-year buried Rail Delivery Group report on the matter.

Here are the three main points that we believe discrimate against, humiliate, and potentially endanger vulnerable passengers:

1. The document proves that GTR has begun a ‘call ahead’ policy

Two months ago, we went to the press over a number of incidents where wheelchair users were refused boarding, despite having booked ahead. Despite our co-founder’s protestations, GTR denied there was any such policy:

Today, we can say definitively that what we claimed to be a new policy from GTR is indeed the case. The process of contacting the destination station to ensure staff are available is spelt out in detail on page 8:

call ahead policy page 8.PNG

This can only be the result of the removal of the guaranteed second staff member from GTR trains; the central argument of the RMT industrial dispute. It is no longer the case that a guaranteed guard will stay with the train and thus be primarily responsible for the disabled person’s boarding and alighting. This again proves the main point of the buried Rail Delivery Group report: ‘the Conductor is the best line of assistance for older and disabled people’.

2. GTR guidance sacrifices equality for dwell times

The issue of dwell times is something that we have been able to find little information on, and we are still pursuing the buried #SDGreport, in the suspicion that it focuses on passenger behaviour around this issue. Page 7 is the perhaps the most damning page in the ‘Pit Stop’ document, as it implies that equality of access is not even a consideration to GTR:

Assisting station to train.PNG

It is also troubling that the presence of an ‘onboard supervisor’ is not assumed here, and the process seems to refer only to station staff’s role in the process.

assisting train to station.PNG

3. GTR’s policy on moving sick passengers could humiliate them and even endanger their health

Particularly cruel is the language around passengers taken ill on trains. Anyone with First Aid training will see immediately that GTR’s miniscule list of contraindications to moving passengers is insensitive and potentially dangerous.  To remove someone who has just suffered a grand mal seizure and possibly soiled themselves onto a freezing platform when they are disorientated, with no medical presence or advice, would be unforgivable.

Abnormal situations.PNG

For a full history of our campaign against GTR’s rollback of disabled access, see this resource.

For further information about disabled access: contact@abcommuters.com

We also recommend contacting Transport for All on this issue, especially if you have been affected.

 

 

 

 

 

A big week for ‘Digital Rail’ – let’s stop pretending the public is getting the full story

It was hard to get excited about the Rail Delivery Group and Department for Transport PR stunts this week – and the reason is simple: we have entirely lost faith that either group represents passengers’ interests. Rather than meet the messaging of the department on its own terms (which goes little further than trying and failing to evoke a sense of ‘Victorian’ grandeur), we intend to take forward our own investigations into these matters and will shortly crowdfund on a matter of crucial public interest.

More from us on the way next week so watch this space! We need all the help we can get and your support is invaluable.

In the meantime, here’s a comment from our co-founder Emily Yates, published yesterday as part of Steve Topple’s summary of the Digital Railway launch:

“Not for the first time, we note that Chris Grayling’s rhetoric about innovation and technology is something that better resembles a relic of the ‘Victorian age’ – or perhaps, going back further, a superstitious practice like praying for rain. We are in the fourth industrial revolution, not the third, and this kind of technocratic PR-speak just doesn’t cut it anymore.

But it’s not just rhetoric – the Minister’s actions speak louder than words. Take for example the cancellation of key electrification projects; or absurd DfT-driven decisions like not installing electric plugs on the new Thameslink trains. The extent to which the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ will come off well for all workers now urgently relies on the transparency of information about research and policy – points on which the department and rail industry fail repeatedly.

We will take our time to comment on the digital signalling project because we suspect that there are still missing parts of the full picture around the Digital Railway strategy. Thameslink was recently the first to use automatic train operation on mainline rail – the method that they hope will allow them to attain 24 tph through the core. Though this was from an industry perspective quite an achievement I don’t think it was adequately analysed or discussed by the technology press. The irony then becomes that, in the tech industry itself, nobody can understand quite what is going on – a problem I have encountered as both a tech writer and a passenger campaigner.

The next part of the picture we require is the research on dwell times which we believe to be an unexplored part of the driver only operation project. Peter Wilkinson has mentioned this more than once in front of the Public Accounts Committee, and we also know that the Rail Delivery Group is holding back the Steer Davies Gleave report (which we have reason to believe could be the business and/or engineering case for the entire DOO project). Since taxpayers are funding the two-year long industrial dispute – which, incidentally, threatens equality of access for the disabled – it is clearly in the public interest to now release the #SDGreport and we call on the Rail Delivery Group again to do so.

The development of technology requires public oversight, consultation and scrutiny like no industrial phenomenon we have ever encountered before. Because many of us in ABC are tech workers ourselves, we do not yet feel fully informed enough to comment on the government’s plans. And we believe that this is the real scandal – plans around innovation in this area seem to have been smokescreened since the 2011 McNulty report, and this is no doubt influenced by the (completely predictable) controversy with the trade unions. Our message to the Department for Transport today is: there can be no transition to the fourth industrial revolution without putting transparency and democracy front and centre.”

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest updates.

 

 

 

Today’s Gatwick Rail Meltdown: all you need to know about the state of GTR’s contingency planning

Today’s events at Gatwick were an entirely predictable outcome of a company and management contract that have never been fit for purpose. Govia Thameslink Railway is clearly to blame for the situation; given that engineering works were scheduled six months in advance, a heatwave was forecast, and the launch of the Brighton Fringe and Brighton Festival happens at the same time every year. There can be no excuses for today’s events and we call on journalists, MPs and the Office of Rail and Road to hold GTR properly to account.

What makes this situation even more appalling is the fact that it happened just two months after the Redhill rail replacement bus disaster. At the time, we were not satisfied with the excuses given by GTR senior management and so revealed the facts behind the story, in response to Angie Doll’s explanation to the BBC, and just as Charles Horton gave his own version to the Public Accounts Select Committee.

The Redhill experience showed us that if we don’t dig up and reveal the facts behind these incidents, nobody will. We have been attempting this voluntarily for two years now, and it is frankly now beyond embarrassing that a small group of commuters can provide the transparency that GTR and the Department for Transport will not. We’re not happy with this state of affairs and frankly, we want our lives back! We will now be writing to the ORR and urging them to step in and ‘show their teeth’.

Here’s the full story of what happened today. All internal memos are presented in the public interest and journalists requiring any further information are welcome to contact us at contact@abcommuters.com.

Not just a crisis of planning – a crisis of communication:

  • According to our sources, initial advice came through at 12.15 from Network Rail as part of a ‘Gold Alert’ informing GTR senior management. At this time, there were queues of up to 4,000 people at Gatwick and plans were being drawn up to procure an additional 40 buses to assist with the situation:

core memo redacted

  • Despite the scale of the situation described above, at 12:34 Southern Rail tweeted out this advice to passengers:
  • 1234 Southern tweetBy 13:08 we had become extremely concerned that Southern Rail was not communicating accurate and up-to-date advice to passengers. So, we tweeted this:

ABC tweet 1308

  • Southern Rail responded immediately to our intervention, and (slightly) strengthened the message with this tweet one minute later:

1309 Southern Rail

  • We were well aware that this advice was still inadequate, and that the only acceptable message in such an extreme failure of planning was “Do Not Travel”. So, we published the initial Network Rail memo at 13:12 – advice which would have been communicated to the GTR’s senior management at least an hour earlier.

ABC tweet 1312

  • It then took until 13:31 for Southern Rail to repeat our advice and finally warn passengers what they should have warned them much earlier: “Do Not Travel.”

1331 Southern Rail

Network Rail and ongoing engineering works

Our latest update (as of 7pm on Sunday 6th May) is that four extra trains have been laid on from Brighton to Victoria this evening, and four extra trains from Victoria to Brighton. This was achieved by the rapid lifting of engineering works between Horsham and Dorking. Now, if this could be so quickly achieved by Network Rail in light of the emergency caused by GTR’s failure of planning, then this begs a serious question: should these Horsham to Dorking works have taken priority in the first place on a day that would completely predictably be so busy?

This question is particularly important when one considers that the Department for Transport claims to be improving co-operation between GTR and Network Rail. The rapid lifting of engineering works at the last minute suggest extremely inadequate communication/contingency planning ahead of today’s emergency. We note the relevant conclusion of the Public Accounts Committee report last month:

PAC Committee on NR

At the time of the last ‘rail replacement bus crisis’ at Redhill in February, we called for the Office of Rail and Road to intervene in GTR. We now repeat that call and ask the regulator to step immediately; an action that is seriously overdue.

We are extremely concerned about what kind of management practices passengers will fall victim to in the upcoming nine-day blockades of the Brighton line in autumn 2018 and new year 2019. It is essential that all future rail/bus replacement plans are independently audited and checked for their robustness and realistic understanding of passenger numbers.

Delay Repay and ‘Consequential Losses’

It is vital that senior GTR management are asked to take a proactive role in meeting passengers’ consumer rights regarding ‘consequential losses’ and delay repay for their experiences today. Any attempt by GTR to assume no delay over and above the times calculated by Journey Planner (ie assuming people have walked onto buses with no queues) will be completely unacceptable, and ABC will follow this up even if our MPs and the Office of Rail and Road do not.

We would call on members of the press to ask GTR managers explicitly whether Delay Repay will take into account the extended journey times in this situation; so that a clear commitment to accurate Delay Repay will be on record if customers should experience problems later.

 

Will there be another ‘rail meltdown’ tomorrow?

We are concerned that there will be further trouble tonight at Three Bridges, and other locations where people are attempting to return to London from the coast. And that’s not to mention Redhill, where passengers had their service reduced from 4 trains per hour to just 1 train per hour today; leaving many people unable to board.

Tomorrow is likely to be a difficult day to travel – even in a ‘best case scenario’ – so we strongly advise passengers to avoid using Southern Rail unless absolutely necessary. If you do end up caught in a similar situation, please stay safe/hydrated and remember that this is not the fault of frontline staff. The lack of foresight and planning from GTR senior management is to blame – whether this be through accidental incompetence or a deliberate ‘heads in the sand’ mentality.

Whoever said “Lessons will be learnt” after the Redhill debacle needs to be shown the door – without a parting bonus.

To keep up to date with our campaigns and investigations, follow us on Twitter and Facebook. You can email us at contact@abcommuters.com

 

 

Commuters Beware – delay repay could get you fined for doing absolutely nothing wrong!

We have been assisting commuters with escalating issues around delay repay claims for two months now. The story begins when one of our members received a demand from GTR for 100% of the delay repay compensation s/he had ever received, after s/he had innocently put in writing that s/he had used the Delay Repay Sniper app in the past.

Over the last week, our inbox has been flooded with complaints from angry commuters, who have also received requests from GTR for the repayment of 30% of all the delay repay they have received. We have not been able to find out where GTR have got the figure of 30% from, nor whether it is based on anything scientific.

GTR’s press office gave us this comment:

“Passengers who have an issue with a Delay Repay claim should contact our customer services team in person.”

We now reveal this situation in the public interest.

We do not claim legal expertise on this matter, but feel that this principle must be clarified by GTR, as there are several of these apps in use among commuters.

Is this about fraud?

ABC takes any allegation of fraudulent claims very seriously and will not advocate on behalf of any commuter except those we believe have been unfairly fined for genuine claims. If you believe you fit into this category, please email us at contact@abcommuters.com and we will do all we can to help.

The third party app “Delay Repay Sniper” is an admin tool – one that has become extremely popular due to passengers’ desire to make the time-consuming process of claiming more convenient. It is an app that collates data already available through websites like raildar.co.uk and realtimetrains.co.uk. DRS has been around since 2013 and the GTR management contract began in 2014, so there are many years’ worth of delay repay claims potentially at risk for customers.

GTR’s Information about Delay Repay

We believe that there are flaws in GTR’s website information on Delay Repay if they are now intending to penalise people for using mobile phone apps.

DR main T and C

DR FAQ

There is no reference here to a third party app – which is not the same thing as a human “third party” (which is subject to human error). An app like Delay Repay Sniper can act like a digital version of the postal service; collating publicly available information and allowing commuters to submit their own data, exactly as described in the FAQ above.

Fraudulent claims are a crime, but this crime can be committed through any vehicle – including GTR’s own website. We now urgently need the consumer rights situation regarding the use of third party apps clarified for the benefit of all rail users.

The injustice felt by those being penalised for genuine claims is even worse when, as passengers, we continue to suffer delays, short-formed trains and cancellations. Here’s an extract from our passenger survey in December 2016, indicating the amount of time people were spending on rail-related admin:

DR admin passenger survey

GTR’s Delay Repay guidance mentions “mitigating circumstances” but doesn’t explain what this means. The amount of time that passengers are forced to spend on claiming is an additional cost on top of the service problems they suffer anyway. We suggest that the Southern Rail Crisis provided more than enough in the way of a ‘mitigating circumstance’ – so the need for GTR to clarify its position on what constitutes a “third party” is undeniable.

Is this a reasonable position?

Because of the consumer rights issues we’ve heard about recently, we fear this could be another occasion where the growing conflicts between rail, technology and consumer rights cause undue stress and problems for passengers. We would appreciate GTR stating explicit conditions on their website regarding the use of third party apps

ABC is always dismayed to hear of any case of fraud, but that is a different problem requiring a different solution. The problem in this case has been the lagging behind of the rail industry in keeping up with passenger’s needs. What else could we expect but for tech companies to start up and fill the gap when there has been such an obvious need of admin help for customers?

If you have been affected by this situation and are being asked to repay compensation you received for genuine claims, you are welcome to contact us at contact@abcommuters.com and we will do what we can to help.

Please appreciate that we are volunteers and also managing our day jobs, so cannot always provide an immediate response.

New Judicial Review case starts today – led by passenger group Bring Back British Rail

The passenger-led campaign group Bring Back British Rail announced this morning that they have started a Judicial Review on the East Coast and have already dispatched a pre-action letter to the Secretary of State for Transport.

In the letter, they highlighted Chris Grayling’s words to Parliament on 5th February this year when he said that Stagecoach had “breached a key financial covenant” and “Stagecoach [had] got its numbers wrong”. Despite the breach of this “key financial covenant” the Transport Secretary has already decided that Stagecoach may be permitted to run the East Coast franchise again, and has even included them on a shortlist of bidders for the East Midlands franchise.

Bring Back British Rail believe that the franchising farce can’t be allowed to continue. In their letter to Chris Grayling today, their lawyers Leigh Day have asked him to confirm:

  1. that he will revoke the Franchise Passports granted to Stagecoach and/or Virgin and/or suspend them pending a full investigation of what went wrong.
  2. whether the costs of terminating the franchise have in fact been met or could be expected to be met by the fulfilment of Stagecoach’s obligations.

To date, the Secretary of State has failed to answer the second question in full, despite the fact it is crucial for everyone to understand how much Stagecoach and Virgin will have cost us taxpayers.

Bring Back British Rail now aim to raise a minimum of £15,000 in the next 30 days. We’ll be supporting them as much as we can and hope our followers will do the same – you can read more about the case and donate here.

A Recent History of Judicial Reviews in Rail

A Judicial Review of the Department for Transport is essentially the holy grail of transport campaigning. Over the last decade, we have seen the DfT go to great lengths to avoid the scrutiny that such a legal case could provide. If BBBR’s new case is successful, we can expect the smokescreens to finally lift on the practices of the entire department.

2012 – Virgin’s Judicial Review over the west coast franchise

In August 2012, Virgin began judicial review proceedings to challenge the award of the west coast franchise to FirstGroup. Just a month into the pre-action proceedings, the DfT withdrew from their decision, announcing the discovery of ‘significant technical flaws in the franchising process’ and suspending several key civil servants in the process.

The sudden cancellation of the franchise award cost taxpayers at least £50 million and the Public Accounts Committee warned that the cost might be “very much larger”. You can refresh your memory of the PAC Committee’s view of the affair here.

It was this fiasco that led to the Brown Review on rail franchising, which claimed that rail franchising was not in fact broken and made a set of recommendations for its improvement. A short while later, the Govia Thameslink Railway management contract was put together, based on a very radical interpretation of Brown’s recommendations (and leaving 100% revenue risk with the taxpayer).

2017 – ABC’s Judicial Review over the GTR management contract

In the midst of the Southern Rail crisis of 2016, we launched Judicial Review proceedings into the GTR management contract, crowdfunding an initial £25,000. Over six months later, our application to JR was turned down on paper by a single judge. Convinced of the merits of our case, we crowdfunded again to take the DfT to an ‘oral hearing’ on whether the JR case could go forward.

In June 2017, we met the DfT in court and discussed our main ground for JR in the High Court for 2.5 hours. The ground discussed was the delay to the force majeure decision on GTR’s continual franchise breaches since the very beginning of their contract. As was widely reported at the time, the DfT argued strongly that the force majeure decision was already “imminent” and about to go public. In a move that nobody expected, the Judge made a conditional judgment, requiring the DfT to announce their decision within two weeks. You can read our full report of the court case here.

On the final day of the two week deadline, the DfT announced that it was asking GTR to pay £13.4 million in the form of an ‘improvement package’ to go straight back into the company (including hiring an extra 50 OBS staff). In claiming they had fulfilled the Judge’s condition, they then came to us for over £17,000 in costs, which we paid shortly afterwards (narrowly escaping bankruptcy).

In January 2018, the NAO report on the TSGN franchise was finally released, giving the full background to how the force majeure decision had been made. Pages 39 to 41 of the report clearly state that a rushed and ‘verbal’ agreement was made in the days after our court case, in which it was agreed that GTR could buy out two years of their liability – even extending into the future (until Sep 2018). This meant that they could completely avoid ever having to prove the often cited effect of “unofficial industrial action” or “sickness strikes” that they had claimed throughout the course of the Southern Rail Crisis. To date, these claims have never been proven, despite providing the thrust of the DfT’s anti-union messaging.

The man behind this hasty force majeure deal was the MD of Passenger Services at the DfT, Peter Wilkinson. A further investigation into his alleged conflicts of interest had been conducted in early 2017 and had been expected to conclude in the NAO report with an enquiry into the circumstances of both GTR and c2c franchise awards. Though we had previously published the first half of this NAO investigation, there was no mention of it whatsoever in their final publication.

Our inquiry into what happened in court last year is far from over. Please follow ABC on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with more revelations coming out this month and throughout 2018!

And please, if you can, support our friends at Bring Back British Rail. Cases like these are always David vs Goliath and they will need all the support we can give throughout this time.

 

 

 

 

Peter Wilkinson under investigation by the NAO for alleged conflict of interest at the Department for Transport

Today, we publish documents from a National Audit Office investigation into Peter Wilkinson’s alleged conflict of interest over Southern Rail. The investigation has been underway since January, when it was revealed by the Guardian that he had awarded the TSGN and C2C rail franchises while a director and joint main shareholder of First Class Partnerships – a consultancy that had been advising both companies. The full NAO report is due to be published in mid-November.

Shortly after the revelation of Peter Wilkinson’s alleged conflict of interest in the Guardian, it was reported that the National Audit Office had begun an inquiry into the DfT’s handling of the GTR contract. This inquiry forms a parallel report to the NAO’s investigation into the Thameslink programme, and was quietly added to their website in January; without an official announcement. Though a summer 2017 release date was originally anticipated, both reports are due to be published in mid-November.

We have now acquired advance information from the NAO’s inquiry into Peter Wilkinson – detailed in an Appendix sent out to the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport in March. A further assessment of the role Wilkinson played in the award of the GTR franchise has been underway since this time, and will be included in the NAO’s final report.

To download a PDF version of the letter and appendix, click the link below:

Investigation into Peter Wilkinson by the National Audit Office

To contact us, click here. We are a volunteer-run organisation, so please bear with us if you do not receive an immediate response.

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