Last week, on a hot summer’s evening, a group of rail campaigners gathered at St Pancras Station. After meetings, lots of email exchanges and careful drafting and redrafting, we had a final version of our six-point Better South Eastern Charter and were ready to hand it in to Department for Transport staff.
Passenger satisfaction with Southeastern is among the worst on the entire rail network, with only the infamous Southern having lower satisfaction. Transport Focus found that over half of commuters are dissatisfied with the value for money they receive, and satisfaction levels for staff availability, overcrowding and facilities like toilets and shelter at stations is also low.
When the consultation on South Eastern was announced, Campaign for Better Transport reached out to some of the rail groups along the line. While having particular geographic concerns about routes, timetables and facilities in their particular regions, we shared common ground in wanting better trains and stations, cheaper fares and decent staffing. We agreed to come together to push for our common interests.
The result was the South Eastern Charter, endorsed by ten organisations.
As well as handing in our Charter at one of the final South Eastern public engagement events, we also used the Charter as the basis for a template consultation response action, to make it as easy as possible for passengers to feed in their views without having to wade through the full 24 question, 46 page consultation document. The consultation on the South Eastern Charter finished last week, apparently with a record number of responses. Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond and share your views on the future of the franchise.
And we also submitted our own, full response, which you can read here. As well as expanding on our six Charter points, we set out some detail about what we see as the necessities for attractive, affordable South Eastern rail services.
However, enabling passengers to have their say once every five or so years, when Invitations To Tender are consulted upon, is not good enough. It’s vital that throughout the franchise, there are meaningful ways for passengers to make our voices heard. The recent project board, headed by Chris Gibb to oversee Southern, included two passenger representatives to ensure that passengers’ demands were heard. The rail user groups along South Eastern are by no means unique – throughout the UK, there are passionate, knowledgeable passengers who care deeply about improving rail travel. Train companies need to step up to the challenge of not just ‘engaging’ us, presenting decisions that have already been made; but involving us in decision making, honestly and respectfully.