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?

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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

 

 

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.”

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