First Class Controversy on GTR – a Boon for the DfT?

A First Class controversy involving Mark Boon (GTR’s Head of Network Operations) went viral on Wednesday and has since found its way into every national newspaper.

As ever, we encourage people not to get caught up in the personal stuff but to actively call the media’s attention to the far bigger scandal underneath – GTR’s management contract with the DfT. The reason that Mark Boon’s attitude hit home for so many is because its the perfect metaphor for a company that functions as a proxy to the Department, and with complete impunity:

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So, if we’re talking farce (while also trying to make a serious political point) there is nowhere better to go next than the story behind the First Class declassification last month….

Alistair Burt’s Announcement – A Comedy of Errors

The #RailPlan2020 timetable collapsed on May 20th, and passengers on the GTR network have suffered a ‘turn up and hope’ timetable ever since. Conditions have been overcrowded, unpredictable, dangerous and hot – the effect this has had on those with disabilities and health conditions cannot be overstated.

And yet, despite this unprecedented rail crisis, and the clear health, safety and equality issues for passengers, it took over five weeks for First Class declassification to be agreed.

The news was announced by Alistair Burt MP at 6:30 pm on the 28th June:

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Unfortunately for Alistair, his moment of triumphant announcement was overshadowed by the fact that this came as a complete surprise to GTR’s social media team. Here they are on the first day of declassification, still unaware:

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And here’s GTR’s social media report from the morning of the 29th, the day that First Class declassification should have begun:

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Who makes the call on First Class?

As with most things GTR, this was a DfT decision – note this extract from Jo Johnson’s announcement letter on the 28th June, linked below:

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First Class announcement letter from Jo Johnson 28.06.18.

Questions for the Department for Transport:

  • Why take over five weeks to declassify? This meant inflicting an unnecessary level of overcrowding on passengers, in the context of an unprecedented timetable collapse and a UK heatwave.
  • Why has the Department failed to prioritise the health, safety and equality aspects of the overcrowding on GTR – this excludes passengers with a wide range of disabilities and health conditions from rail travel.
  • Last year, Chris Grayling stated his ‘absolute commitment’ to ending First Class on overcrowded commuter routes. Can this commitment be sincere when there has been such delay and resistance to declassifying even at the time of an emergency?
  • We are expecting to see a reduction in off-peak services in the new ‘interim’ timetable. Why can’t First Class declassification apply all day, and across all ‘train brands’ – all of which belong to the same company?
  • Why is First Class declassification ending on 15th July rather than staying in place until things have fully stabilised and passengers can travel without excessive overcrowding?

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more #RailPlan2020 updates

 

 

 

 

 

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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 our 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

 

 

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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

EXCLUSIVE: New documents revealed suggesting further cover-ups around nationwide plans for DOO

Today, we reveal email correspondence raising serious questions about the impartiality of the RSSB. The emails demonstrate the intention to move staff away from disabled access and towards a ‘mobile’ revenue protection role. They also lead us to the discovery of an unheard-of report on DOO that has been buried for four years – where is the #SDGreport?

In June, we published a controversial Rail Delivery Group report on access that had been buried for two years. Though we received a lot of media interest upon our publication of this report, nobody outside certain sections of the rail press went forward with the story. This is despite the fact that Peter Rayner, one of the report’s co-authors, had broken ranks with the rail industry months earlier and spoken publicly of his concerns that GTR is now normalising a permanent breach of the Equality Act in its plans for DOO.

Today we publish further documents:

We now reveal further documents relating to the issues in the buried access report, which was quietly published on the Rail Delivery Group website a few days after we brought it to the public domain.

The following email correspondence takes place in June 2014 and begins with an email from Peter Rayner, a co-author of the buried RDG report and Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport’s Accessibility and Inclusion Forum.

In the following correspondence you will see that Peter Rayner wrote of his concerns to CILT’s Head of Policy, Daniel Parker-Klein; who then forwarded the email to Michael Woods, Head of Operations and Management Research at the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB).

As he describes in his email response, Michael Woods was responsible for a major piece of research into DOO at that time. He is referring to the RSSB report on DOO, which was itself hidden from the RSSB website when the issue of DOO became controversial. You might remember us providing a link to the document in November 2016, after the report was exposed in Private Eye.

The correspondence ends with an outraged email from Ann Frye, another co-author of the buried RDG report and Vice-Chairperson of CILT’s Accessibility and Inclusion Forum.

The email from Michael Woods portrays a shocking attitude to Peter Rayner’s concerns, and a great deal can be learned from it about what has been going on behind the scenes regarding plans for DOO. We point out two points in particular here and include the full correspondence below:

1. Michael Woods comments on the controversial RSSB report, the independence of which has long been denied by the rail unions:

“I am responsible for a major piece of research, complementing a previous study by a well known consultancy Steer Davies Gleave (you know the owner), into how to significantly extend the coverage of Driver Only Operation for Passenger Services (DOO(P)) to much more of the network, on behalf of RDG and ultimately DfT.

The Steer Davies Gleave report on DOO has never been mentioned publicly until now. We have tracked down the only reference – it appears as a footnote in the RSSB report:

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Given that so many buried and controversial documents are now coming to light – it is essential that we raise a call for the publication in full of the Steer Davies Gleave report, and ask why – as a foundational document to DOO – it has been buried for the past four years. We will be using the hashtag #SDGreport, and hope that you will join us in raising the attention of MPs and press to this issue.

2. Michael Woods comments on the rationale for DOO, confirming allegations that it is part of a project to move staff over to revenue protection duties:

“Having mobile teams of customer service staff able to check that customers have authority to travel (we are coming to the end of paper or card tickets, which will disappear in the next five or so years) and provide other assistance, but not one-per-train, is the way forward.”

A close reading of Michael Woods’ email will show that the RSSB considers the pre-booking of travel sufficient for those with access needs, and suggests that this forms part of their long-term solution for disabled people in regard to DOO: “PRM [Persons of Reduced Mobility] customers will still have access to the ATOC managed booking system to ensure they are met and aided…”

Read the full correspondence below:

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Peter Rayner email 5

The time has come for ABC Phase Two: help us campaign for justice and transparency in UK rail!

After a year of hard work and dedication to the #SouthernFail cause; ABC and its 2,000 financial backers are finally starting to see their efforts bear fruit! On 29th June, we pulled off the biggest democratic check on Chris Grayling yet; in the form of a court decision that forced the DfT to finally decide the issue of Force Majeure – 16 months after their deliberations began.

The resulting £13.4 million fine was enough to satisfy the Judge’s deadline of 13th June, meaning that our judicial review cannot go forward. This money is now being channeled back into Southern Rail in the form of yet another remedial plan – and there is certainly irony in the fact that £5 million of the ‘fine’ is now being used to fund extra staff on Southern Rail, when their well-known understaffing model was a major cause of the service’s collapse in the first place.

We believe that this reinvestment of Govia’s ‘fine’ is nothing more than an attempt to re-balance contract specifications that were so catastrophically conceived that they were bound to fail from the very start. In the words of a recent article in Railway Magazine:

“…the Department for Transport’s desire to merge the Thameslink, Southern and Gatwick Express operations into the biggest rail franchise in history has instead simply created a monster – one that is now out of control.”

There is so much more to do in unravelling the causes of this ongoing rail crisis; and ABC plans to be bigger, bolder and more influential than ever in the next phase of building our non-profit organisation – dedicated to the cause of justice and transparency in all UK transport policy.

We are still crowdfunding to pay our legal fees, survive bankruptcy by the DfT, and fund further legal investigations into: 1) the full Southern Rail franchise agreement; and 2) an Equality Act challenge on driver-only-operated trains. We really need to hit £30,000 in the next 20 days – all of which will go into our legal fighting fund to help us take new actions forward. Please donate whatever you can!

There is so much more to do…

This has been a David vs Goliath battle from the start. Our crowdfunder of September 2016 raised £26,000 – which has been our total legal resource for almost a year. The vast majority of all legal and publicity work has been done on a voluntary and skill-sharing basis among a close network of lawyers, commuter researchers and citizen journalists. To date, ABC has received just one £5,000 grant (from the Foundation of Integrated Transport) – and yet, we have already achieved more than anyone thought possible.

The ABC ‘project’ has never been just about the judicial review case. Our legal action instead formed a backbone to extensive legal, lobbying, publicity and research efforts that will continue exactly as before – and in fact, will only get bigger. We now have an excellent platform from which to promote change in UK transport policy and we intend to use it.

Our innovative “digital DIY” techniques and unique experiments with crowd-sourced investigative journalism have already changed the face of transport campaigning, and this is just the start. What our critics do not realise is that we’ve not only been campaigning on Southern Rail for a year – we’ve also been creating a radical business plan; one that we can’t wait to implement in the creation of “ABC 2.0”. Through collaborative work and grass roots organising, we are now set to take our campaigning model all over the country – at a time when rail passengers have never needed it more.

We urgently need to keep our independence, and continue our work:

In the last two months, we have had some of our biggest successes yet. We have published exclusives on: 1) urgent health and safety concerns at Victoria station; 2) information from the Gibb report, which possibly lead to its release; 3) an RMT offer (declined by GTR) that represented their biggest compromise yet; and most controversially of all: 4) a two-year buried Rail Delivery Group report on disabled access, which strongly argues for keeping the conductor on the train.

All of these issues (and many more) are still being investigated by ABC, and there is much work to do in fully uncovering the truth behind them. This is the reason for our appeal – we must urgently restore our legal fighting fund if we are to have adequate legal support and resources to continue our work.

Every contribution makes a difference – so please donate the price of a train ticket today, and ask a fellow commuter to do the same! Our future is in your hands, and we are forever grateful for the help and support from our community – without it, none of this would have been possible.

We aim to hit £30,000 by 16th August! Please help us by donating here.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest news – and more exclusive releases that the government and rail industry don’t want you to see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exclusive: Buried report on rail access now available to download

Yesterday, we announced our discovery of a vital report on rail accessibility, commissioned by ATOC (now the Rail Delivery Group) and completed in May 2015. Nobody had viewed or even had knowledge of this document’s existence until now – despite the repeated calls from disabled people, campaigns like ABC and Transport for All, and even the Transport Select Committee; for proper oversight of disabled access during Southern Rail’s chaotic implementation of DOO.

It now seems that over a whole year of calling for impact assessments and a proper, transparent public discussion of the impact of DOO on disabled and older people; a report had already done just that and has been sitting in a drawer at the Rail Delivery Group for the past two years.

What does this mean for our legal case on Thursday?

The most ironic thing of all in the report coming to us at this time is the strong potential for legal challenge it clearly lays out. The Equality Act 2010 is a weak, ongoing process built by case law; and the breach of the Act occurring when Southern Rail runs unstaffed trains to unstaffed stations has already been said by many esteemed commentators and lawyers to be an extremely strong case if we can get it in front of a judge.

We urgently need your help to fund our ongoing investigations and actions and would greatly appreciate even the smallest donation or Facebook share of our Crowd Justice fundraiser.

With the Department for Transport preferring an “outcome-based” rather than a “compliance based” approach to the Equality Act, we believe that they not only exempt themselves from these rules, but rather fear new case law being made that will compel them to comply. The report states it is “highly likely” that this will happen and “likely” that this in turn will have an effect on the legal position regarding the provision of disabled access. It is up to us to make this happen.

A witness statement from last week

Both ABC and Transport for All receive regular, if not weekly, reports of access failures on Southern Rail. Here is the most recent we received; describing an experience that has become all too familiar to disabled passengers:

“I’m a wheelchair user. On the 23rd June 2017 I travelled from London to Brighton. I had booked ramp assistance for the outward journey three days in advance. But booking made no difference: platform staff at Victoria didn’t know about my booking, and when I arrived at Brighton, no one came with a ramp to get me off the train: station staff had absolutely no idea I was on the train. I was very angry. For my return journey, staff at Brighton promised to inform Victoria I was on my way. But on arrival at Victoria, again no one came to assist me with a ramp – no one had informed Victoria I was coming. These are NOT isolated incidents: it happens to me very often, and it’s upsetting and annoying and causes much anxiety. Southern Rail pays empty lip service to accessibility for all passengers, but the reality is that they don’t give a toss and refuse to implement policies and procedures which actually make the promised assistance solidly reliable.”

On Track for 2020? The Future of Accessible Rail Travel

The full report can be downloaded here:

On Track for 2020 – Full report

 

To donate to our crowdfunder, click here.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates.

 

 

 

Exclusive: ABC reveals buried RDG report on disabled access, which strongly advises keeping the guard on the train

Since launching an urgent crowdfunder for our ongoing legal action against the Department for Transport on Monday 19th June, we have received an anonymous package in the post.

The package contained a vital report on rail accessibility, commissioned by ATOC (now the Rail Delivery Group) and completed in May 2015. ‘On Track for 2020? The Future of Accessible Rail Travel’ has been kept under lock and key until now and we release it today in the belief that every disabled and older citizen in the UK has the right to be informed of its contents. It would appear that somebody within the rail industry thought so too.

Our researchers (a group of volunteer passengers) have now studied the report’s contents in depth – and discovered that it contains strongly termed advice about the anticipated effect of the nationwide trend towards DOO (driver only operated trains) on disabled and older people.

What’s so controversial about this report?

The contents of the report represent part of an argument over DOO that has received shamefully little attention by the press and politicians, many of whom have chosen instead to write off the unions’ concerns as “inexplicable”. We can no longer stand for the concerns of disabled and older people to be treated as “niche”; while out-of-context news about a “£75,000 offer” made to drivers is allowed to dominate the headlines.

We point towards the report’s own argument that the economic benefit of providing spontaneous access to disabled and older people actually far outweighs the cost. Of course, the economic argument is only necessary if the moral, societal, and legal ones are not enough! On the legal note, the report includes worrying implications in the statement that the Department for Transport prefers an “outcome-based” rather than a “compliance based” approach towards the Equality Act 2010.

The report supports ABC’s arguments by strongly distinguishing between metro and rural parts of the rail network, and stating that the practice of running unstaffed trains running to unstaffed stations is a breach of the Equality Act. It says definitively: “It is Conductors who are best placed to ensure that assistance is delivered effectively and in accordance with the law.”

Controversially, the report contains extensive discussion of the “clear trends” arising from the McNulty report in regard to de-staffing; and its authors repeatedly note their opposition to prospective policy changes that might allow unstaffed trains to run to unstaffed stations.

Why are we publishing?

It is clear that this is a high quality report, and one that was originally written for the benefit of both policy-makers and those who work on the railway. In addition to this, the near-total exclusion of disabled and older people from the DOO debate has gone on so long that we believe that the public has the right to view its recommendations.

The entrenched industrial dispute could also be solved right now with the provision of a proper”Guard Guarantee” – and this would have the benefit of ending industrial action on the Southern Rail network, just as it enters its second year.

‘On Track for 2020?’ is a comprehensive study and also covers aspects of rail accessibility about which its authors take a positive view. Because we have limited resources to reproduce our paper copies in full; we publish a set of extracts and an early synopsis of those issues around staffing and access that have been most relevant to our members. We also include copies of the report’s contents pages, executive summary and other documents; to redress the balance of our edited extracts, and demonstrate their context.

We have distributed the report to disability rights groups so that they may also contribute analysis according to their own areas of expertise. In addition to this, we will endeavour to produce a full digital version as soon as time and resources allow (unless of course the Rail Delivery Group wishes to respond by releasing the full publication).

Why has this report been buried for so long?

This discovery comes just days after the 6-month-delayed release of the Gibb report; just as journalists and MPs raise calls for a proper analysis of its editing decisions, and the release of the redacted Appendix Nine.

ABC’s disabled members have been very upset that the issue of disabled access was entirely absent from the Gibb Report. This issue has previously been absent from the RSSB report on DOO; as well as recent ORR publications, which focus mainly on the methodology of DOO and may not be providing adequate oversight of the activities of Southern Rail in regard to new staffing practices.

The Transport Select Committee emphasised the urgent need for a disability impact assessment on GTR in their November 2016 report, yet even now our campaign takes regular witness reports from disabled people who have been abandoned on trains and platforms by Southern Rail; often due to the absence of a second member of staff on board.

Ironically enough, the report makes for an excellent endorsement for our current legal case on disabled access, and notes that there is currently “very little case law” and that it is “highly likely that at some point relevant case law will be made”. It also states: “it is likely that case law will in future have an impact on accessibility”.

ABC’s resources are now stretched to the max! Please donate to our legal crowdfunder and share on social media

 

On Track for 2020? The Future of Accessible Rail Travel

Co-authored by Ann Frye Ltd, Rail Accessibility Ltd and MWW Transport Consultants.

Final Report, May 2015

This Report was commissioned by the Association of Train Operating Companies (now the Rail Delivery Group) to consider how accessible Britain’s railway network will be to older and disabled people by 1st January 2020 (the date by which all rolling stock must meet legal accessibility requirements).

Brief overview of the report’s contents regarding DOO and staffing – paraphrased as accurately as possible by the ABC team:

ABC analysis – briefest version

ABC’s own extracts from the report, with analysis

On Track for 2020 – with ABC analysis and extracts

A longer document of relevant extracts, including page numbers and references

On Track for 2020 The Future of Accessible Rail Travel – extracts with page refs and footnotes

Image documents:

Cover page

Contents

Executive Summary

Annex One The Legal Framework

Annex Two Organisations Consulted

Annex Three Project Team

 

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