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

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.

 

ABC Passenger Survey 2016 – how much is the Southern Rail crisis costing us?

Our survey went out on December 10th, receiving over a thousand responses within just 24 hours. A series of 50 questions aimed to represent the effect on commuters’ individual lives and wellbeing over the past six months of the Southern Rail crisis.

Questions focused on the costs to commuters – covering time costs, personal impact, work impact, extra expenses and much more. We also posed in-depth questions into the everyday difficulties of travelling on Southern Rail, and the health and safety risks that have been a daily concern over the past six months of service breakdown.

A few opinion questions were inserted at the very end of the survey, in order to minimise the chance of respondents undertaking the survey with ulterior motives/ political bias.

Download the full report here: abc-passenger-survey-results-2016

 

 

 

 

 

Your complete guide to Thursday’s #SouthernFail protest: How You Can Help

Thursday’s march from Victoria to the Department for Transport is organised by ABC, the pressure group soon to undertake a judicial review of the government’s handling of Southern Rail.

Sign up to the protest here and please share as widely as possible:

We are seeing nothing but inflammatory and “politically motivated” statements from the Transport Minister at a time when he is already six  months late in stepping in to solve this unprecedented rail crisis. His complete lack of assertive and transparent action puts him in total dereliction of his duty to the public.

Most worrying of all is the suggestion that the Department for Transport has been blocking a resolution to the dispute behind the scenes. This is a question we now urgently need the answer to. If it is indeed the case, we are going through these excruciating strikes for nothing!

What is rotten in Southern Rail started long before the current industrial action; which now takes place on top of a broken infrastructure, chronic understaffing and a company whose relations with the public have irretrievably broken.

Our demands to the DfT include: 1) urgent and transparent intervention into the industrial dispute 2) a fully independent public inquiry into the collapse of Southern Rail 3) transparency from the government in the form of answers to our crowdsourced questions. If Chris Grayling will not take these actions, he should immediately resign.

How You Can Help:

  • Join the protest tomorrow and bring along as many fellow-sufferers as possible! There will be free mince pies, carol singing, a Facebook live stream and many other stunts, including a big media presence at the DfT for you to state your views to the press directly.
  • Send a copy of our Open Letter to chris.grayling@dft.gsi.gov.uk, copying in your MP

open-letter-to-chris-grayling

  • Send a copy of our PDF of “Urgent questions for the DfT” to chris.grayling@dft.gsi.gov.uk and your MP

urgent-questions-for-the-department-for-transport

  • Sign up now to our Thunderclap, part of our simultaneous online protest for those who can’t make it! This mass social media action starts from 5pm and is already set to reach 300,000 people – this could be one million by tomorrow. It is sure to be followed by a Twitter storm like no other: so, stay online, participate, and watch the ABC Twitter and Facebook for our live videos from the protest. Don’t forget to tell the press and MPs how the Southern Rail crisis has affected you, using the hashtags #SouthernFail or #GraylingMustResign

Volunteering

Anyone coming to the protest who can help with printing A4 black and white documents please get in touch. There will be other roles we need help with on the day, so please get in touch if you’d like to help.

Guests

We are expecting a diverse attendance of guests, a lot of press, and are also hoping to welcome an MP or two. All are welcome to attend and speak to our ABC media team for broadcast, but we ask that there are no banners from trades unions or political parties. This request is made in order to focus all attention on the urgent problem at hand in a climate that has been wilfully and unforgivably driven to a crisis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Campaign: Open Letter on Health & Safety to Southern Rail, DfT and Select Comittee for Transport

With an increasing number of health and safety risks being reported by commuters, we have now launched an Open Letter to the CEO of Southern Rail, marked for the attention of the Department for Transport and Transport Select Committee.

We ask all commuters who have experienced or witnessed a health and safety incident on the network to add their comment to our Open Letter here. Please keep comments as brief and clear as possible, with a maximum length of 80 words.

As the evidence accumulates, we will be addressing CEO of Southern Rail and the Department for Transport directly. We have also spoken to the Parliamentary Select Committee for Transport of our fears over escalating violence on the network, and they have kindly agreed to accept our evidence as an official submission as part of their ongoing Rail Safety Inquiry, details here.

Our aim with this new campaign is to provide a vehicle for a large amount of witness statements to be brought to the attention of the above authorities. In the case of longer submissions, especially those of a more serious nature, please comment in brief on our Open Letter and follow up with a longer submission to the Select Committee; and if necessary, a police report.

We have also raised our concerns with the British Transport Police today, who have provided a statement here. They are keen that rail users are reminded of their text message service, which provides a discreet method of contact in case you feel threatened while trapped in the crowd – the number is 61016 (this is not a substitute for dialling 999, which should be used in the case of an emergency).

The Select Committee for Transport have also emphasised that they are keen to hear suggestions on how the safety of passengers can be improved in the short term. If you have any ideas on how Southern Rail staff and the British Transport Police can better serve commuters, please comment below this post.

 

 

Health & Safety risks worsen as commuters fear violence & assault on Southern Rail

Since instructing our lawyers to write to the Department for Transport last week regarding the escalating health and safety concerns on Southern Rail, we have become increasingly concerned over the risks of violence on the network.

The health and safety risks on the network now form our most immediate concern; and we fear that the very real impact of the crisis in terms of crowd psychology has been ignored by Southern Rail management, and suffers a lack of oversight from the Department for Transport.

The stress of severe overcrowding, competition for trains, and a breakdown of trust in the management create a volatile crowd situation that seems to be leading to an increasing number of violent incidents on the network. For an insight into the mass psychology of the situation, please see Dr. John Drury’s comments published last week: http://drury-sussex-the-crowd.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/southern-rail-and-psychology-of-crowd.html

Please be aware that officers from the British Transport Police are available throughout the network to respond to incidents of this nature. If you feel threatened or endangered in any way, you can contact them by texting 61016; which is a discreet way to get in touch if you are stuck in a violent situation on a packed train. You can also call the BTP on 0800 405040 (in an emergency, always dial 999).

We have just been in touch with the British Transport Police on this issue, and they gave us the following statement in reponse to our concerns:

“We are in constant discussion with Southern Rail and continue to monitor the situation so that we can deploy officers where needed. Where any disruption occurs, we have officers available to support rail staff and passengers.

In general, we know that incidents of violence on the railway tend to occur more often when there is disruption or overcrowding, particularly at peak times. The types of violent incidents reported to us tend to be common assaults resulting in no injury to the victim.

The main drive behind the incidents appears to be frustration and a lack of patience among commuters leading to low level physical and verbal assaults. We can all make a difference by being kind and considerate to our fellow passengers.”

The ABC team is busy working on further health and safety campaigns related to these issues, and will be publishing updates with further avenues for action soon.

 

 

 

Fears for Health & Safety on Southern Rail – our lawyers write to the DfT

We have been inundated with reports of health and safety risks related to overcrowding on the Southern Rail network; problems that we have witnessed for many months, and have reached their peak during the strike action.

Our lawyers have now written to the DfT seeking clarity on whether they have conducted any risk analysis in advance of the RMT strikes, and at what point the DfT will consider these risks to be seen to be sufficiently serious to warrant termination of the franchise. We seek to know what instructions (if any) the DfT have given GTR in minimising the effect on rail users during this time, and whether GTR’s implementation of these instructions is being properly monitored.

The witness reports of which we have informed the DfT include: incidents of violence at Brighton station, dangerous overcrowding and mass panic in crowds, mass rushes along overcrowded platforms to board trains in the case of last-minute announcements, a child left abandoned on a platform due to overcrowding, and illness and incapacity brought on in the vulnerable, pregnant, elderly and disabled.

Statement from the Association of British Commuters

“The Select Committee for Transport confirmed last week what ABC has been arguing for months – that the Department for Transport have failed to monitor and enforce the GTR franchise agreement, and are evading their responsibility to provide proper transparency.

In the meantime, with no confidence in GTR’s management of the network, or the DfT’s oversight; we feel that the extra overcrowding during the strikes represents an unacceptable health and safety risk to the public and fear that it is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we will see a tragedy on the network.”

The Transport Select Committee’s report – released 14th October.

We highly recommend reading the full report, which backs up the arguments that the Association of British Commuters have been making for months. In regard to the Department for Transport’s responsibility to step in to resolve the ongoing failure of GTR and the industrial dispute with the RMT, please note the following; and be reminded that the GTR contract is not a typical franchise agreement, but a management contract.

Extract from paragraph 52:

Whilst the dispute can ultimately only be resolved through negotiation between GTR and the RMT, given the Department’s unusually direct involvement in the TSGN franchise it should take a greater degree of responsibility for fostering productive negotiations. We therefore urge the new Rail Minister and Secretary of State to engage more actively and substantively with the rail unions’ safety and workforce-related concerns in relation to the expansion of DOO on the TSGN franchise, as a matter of urgency.

Extract from paragraph 56:

We are concerned that no official impact assessment has been made of the potential effects of DOO on disabled people’s access to the railway. We recommend the DfT and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) jointly commission research into the potential effects of DOO on the “turn up and go” accessibility of the railway to disabled people who require assistance getting on and off trains. The Department should draw on this research to issue guidance to train operating companies on the measures that should be taken to mitigate potential detrimental effects on disabled people’s access. It should ensure that actions are taken to guarantee that disabled rail passengers receive the support to which they are entitled.

Extract from paragraph 82:

If GTR is in default, it is incumbent on the Department to take the franchise back in house and then to find one or more operators that can improve the situation. It is simply not credible for the DfT to continue to claim that “no other operator” could improve the situation; if it is the case, it is a consequence of the structuring of the franchise, for which the Department is ultimately accountable.

For the full report, click here.