Horsham commuters were in no mood to accept the lame excuses and feeble apologies offered by the directors of Southern Rail when they attended the public meeting organised by Jeremy Quin MP in Horsham on Saturday 9 July.
The anger and frustration felt by those who have experienced months of cancellations, delays and ‘disappearing’ trains was clearly demonstrated to the three member panel.
There was a very clear sense from the vast majority of the audience that Southern Rail had forfeited the right to continue with its lucrative franchise, due to its complete inability to run anything like an acceptable level of service.
The meeting heard accounts from speaker after speaker of the impact on their physical and mental health of hours spent on overcrowded trains and station platforms, often with limited or no information about the prospects of reaching their intended destination.
There were examples of people having lost jobs or fearing losing jobs as a result of their inability to arrive at their workplace on time.
The directors present at the meeting were unable to respond to their customers concerns in a way that provided any hope that things are likely to improve any time soon. The only solution that the management team were able to offer was the imminent introduction of the new timetable.
However the only beneficiary of this timetable, which will massively reduce the numbers of services that will run and remove some peak time services altogether, will be the train operator.
With fewer services running it will better able to achieve the reduction in cancellations and delays required to access the bonuses offered in its franchise contract. For the customer there will be increased overcrowding and even greater disruption for those now unable to undertake their usual commute.
As commuters attending the meeting pointed out, it is clear that Southern has significantly under-resourced the service in an attempt to meet its contract terms.
The industrial dispute with staff over a restructuring that it claims is intended to ensure that the carriage doors are operated more efficiently, has resulted in further disruption. Any attempt to blame the rail union for the continued chaos, however, was dismissed by passengers who have endured poor service for too long.
Jeremy Quin’s efforts in arranging this meeting were appreciated by the attendees. His meeting to discuss the concerns with the transport minister were also welcomed. It did not escape the attention of many present, however, that the government has also to take some responsibility for the current mess.
The government has negotiated a contract which pays a fixed sum to Southern regardless of the standard of service.
It incurs no reduction in that sum in the event that it fails to deliver an acceptable service, the only penalty is non-receipt of the bonuses payable if it fails to meet the targets on punctuality and reliability.
In view of this lack of any incentive to ensure that the service operates efficiently, the sole penalty for an appalling service delivery must be the forfeiture of the franchise. A penalty demanded by commuters but on that, the government appears reluctant to impose.
This reluctance is now seriously detrimental to passengers, who are increasingly demanding that the government take such action.
Jeremy Quin said at the meeting that he was elected to serve the interests of his constituents and not those of the train operators.
He has demonstrated that, up to a point he has tried to do that. If we are not to conclude that his efforts so far have simply been intended to deflect attention from the government’s share of the responsibility to resolve this mess, it is now time to respond to wishes of Horsham’s commuters.
We call upon Jeremy to ensure at his next meeting with the transport minister that the franchise is taken away from this failing company with immediate effect.
If, as he said at the meeting, the government cannot identify a company prepared to run the service, the franchise should be brought back into public ownership.
A company should be set up that has the backing of the trade unions, staff and commuters and which can deliver the public service we need.
Chair, Horsham Labour Party, Clarence Road,
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