Last month, the government opened a consultation on the future of rail services in the South East region - including those in Dartford. As we all know and experience too often, the current operator Southeastern has failed passengers. We need a change and a train service that puts passengers first. That's why we believe that following the expiry of the franchise the south eastern rail service should return to public ownership. You can read the full response submitted by Dartford Labour Councillors below
Councillor Jonathon Hawkes - Leader, Dartford Labour Group
Do our priorities correctly reflect your views?
No. We believe that following the expiry of the franchise the south-eastern rail service should return to public ownership. Our preferred method of delivering this would be to allow a proposal previously tabled by the Mayor of London for Transport for London to run London commuter services into Kent.
In the event that the government does not adopt this model, we would strongly advocate that co-operative and passenger led franchise proposals are considered.
We believe the priorities of any new operators should be
- · Reliability – Passengers need to see a significant reduction in late / cancelled trains
- · Safety – Travelling by train should be safe at all times
- · Better Customer Service – Passengers should have an improved experience of using the rail network, better communication, accessible information and right to redress when things go wrong.
- · Value – Fares are currently too high. We would wish to see a gradual reduction of fares and simplification of the pricing structure
- · Capacity – Reducing overcrowding needs to be a key deliverable of any new operators
- · Accountability - We believe that a core principle for the next operator should be that services are run in the best interests of the passengers who use and pay for them. In support of that principle, Key Performance Indicators should specify high levels of passenger satisfaction, a reduction of complaints and demonstrable evidence is shown that the views of passengers about services are pro-actively sought, recorded and acted upon
Do you agree that more space is needed for passengers at the busiest times of the day?
Yes. Services are often intolerably overcrowded during rush hour and any new operator needs to address this problem. However, the answer cannot be to provide more space and simply allow that to become overcrowded in the same way. Train design and more effective use of space need to be utilised to help drive innovative solutions to this problem. For the price passengers pay, they deserve to travel in comfort.
What do you think of the options for providing more space on trains?
- · Longer trains – We support the idea of longer trains in principle, but it is difficult to see how this would work given the current design of platforms at many stations.
- · Metro style carriages – Qualified support. These types of carriages have worked successfully on the DLR; however, the average journey time is considerably shorter. Given that a consequence of metro style carriages will be more passengers standing any introduction must be tied to significant increases to reliability and faster journey times.
Would you support removing First Class seating on the busiest routes to provide more space?
Yes. There is no place for first class carriages on overcrowded commuter trains. However, removing first class is a necessary, but insufficient measure to reduce overcrowding and would need to form part of a range of measure sas described elsewhere in this response.
Do you have any other ideas or priorities for improving customer service?
The new operator should learn from examples of good customer services from comparator organisation with a good reputation. Priorities should be
- · More staff at stations. More staff with a visible presence on platforms to assist passengers.
- · Better Journey Planning mechanisms – Current options for Journey planning on Southeastern are currently very poor. Many passengers use Southeastern as a gateway to another mode of transport (tube/bus/DLR). A journey planning facility for passengers that is fully integrated with other operators and modes of transport is a necessity. Government talk about an integrated public transport system but passengers are not even given the most basic tools to plan their journey using different form of public transport.
- · Invest in staff – Any new operator should invest in staff and form a positive working relationship with trade unions. Investment in staff training and development leads to a positive working environment and would in turn, contribute to a better experience for customers and staff alike.
What changes to the fares structure would be of benefit to you?
In general, fares should be cheaper and the pricing structure simplified. We need to see the cheapest ticket options clearly advertised and available to purchase, in person at stations as well as online. The new operator should introduce season tickets for part time workers. At the moment, part-time workers who commute by train must either buy a season ticket and lose money on the days they don't use it, or buy individual peak-time tickets. Part timers are losing hundreds of pounds a year. The introduction of a flexible season ticket could help address this discrepancy.
We also need to see the end of the significant pricing anomalies experienced between stations that are very close to each other. In our own Borough passengers using Swanscombe station pay £502 a year more for their annual season ticket than those using Greenhithe station – even though it’s only three minutes further down the line. That equates to an additional £184 per minutes journey. This situation is unfair and it is not explained to passengers why such a price differential exists. There should be a cap on price differentials between stations within a recognised local area. (e.g. City boundaries/local government area)
What further comments, if any, do you have on our plans to improve access and facilities at stations
Every single station on the network should be fully accessible to those with disabilities. In our own Borough, many local stations are unusable for disabled passengers. This is unacceptable and discriminatory. It should be a condition of any new operator that they must make all stations fully accessible by 2020.
What more could be done to improve access and provide facilities for those with disabilities or additional needs?
Installation of lifts, the phasing out of steps/stairs, reduce clutter on platforms.
How far do you support, or oppose, the extension of High Speed services from London St. Pancras to Hastings, Bexhill, and Rye, where this would represent value for money to the taxpayer?
How far do you support, or oppose, reducing journey times to key destinations in Kent and East Sussex, by reducing stops at less well used intermediate stations to create hourly fast services?
Reduction in journey times should be achieved through increased investment in infrastructure and rolling stock – not through the reduction of the services available to passengers.
How far do you support, or oppose, options to reduce the choice of central London destinations served from individual stations with the aim of providing a more regular, evenly spaced timetable, and a more reliable service?
Strongly oppose. This proposal would be very damages to passengers in Dartford as well as the profile and economic prosperity of the town. Within the Borough of Dartford, passengers using Swanscombe, Greenhithe, Stone Crossing and Dartford stations currently travel into London Charing Cross as well as London Cannon Street. Additionally, passengers using Dartford station can travel to London Victoria. If the available destinations are restricted to just Cannon Street this is result in increased journey times and greater inconvenience for many passengers. It would also deliver greater pressure to London Bridge station which would be used as changing point for passengers wanting to travel to other destinations than Cannon Street,
How far do you support, or oppose, plans for the train operator and Network Rail to form a close alliance with the aim of reducing delays and improving performance?
Support in principle. However, bringing together Network Rail and Train Operators cannot mean placing infrastructure back in the private sector. The degradation of safety standards under Railtrack should serve as a warning that rail infrastructure and the maintenance thereof should remain the role of the government.
How would you prefer the next South Eastern operator to engage with you?
The new operator should regularly engage with local government in the areas it operates. Performance data should be made available to local councillors. Local Councillors can play an important part in 2-way communication between passengers and operators and we would like to see the new operator recognise Councillors as important stakeholders. As a key service, we would also welcome initiatives for representatives of the new operator to make themselves available at local government overview and scrutiny committees.
Dartford, in common with many areas, has an active passenger action group. The new operators should regularly engage and consult with local rail passenger groups, national passenger groups such as the Campaign for Better Transport and trade unions regarding performance, passenger voice, as well as proposed changes to the service.
Looking to future, beyond this franchise, what, if any, benefits do you consider there would be for passengers from a franchise with a different geographical boundary?
We supported the proposal from the Mayor of London for Transport for London to take over running of suburban rail services into London. We believe this would deliver considerable benefits to commuters in London – a fully integrated service, the further extension of Oyster, greater reliability and enhanced connectivity with other TfL services. The TfL proposal committed to deliver increased capacity, frequency and reliability of rail services all-day staffing at stations, integrated fares, TfL would provide extra train services, deep cleaning and enhancements at stations, as well as more and improved ticket machines. We believe the government now needs to look again and reconsider the TfL proposal.
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Last month, the government opened a consultation on the future of rail services in the South East region - including those in Dartford. As we all know and experience too...