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Should trains and buses run on Christmas Day?

Former campaigner's picture
Rebecca Lack

Getting to friends and family on Christmas Day or Boxing Day can be difficult for non-drivers. So should public transport services run continually through the holidays? Bus and train user Rebecca Lack (pictured left) argues that they should, while ASLEF's General Secretary Mick Whelan holds a different view. You can join the debate on Facebook or Twitter.

A passenger's view

"Do you love December 24, 25 and 26? Or do you loathe these dates? Do you spend these days at home? With family and friends? Alone? Do you need to get to work? 

We are told that Christmas is for families. Which means, as my sister puts it: “There are many stakeholders to keep happy.” But you need a car to reach them all. Or to go anywhere over the reputedly festive season.

If you don’t live within walking or cycling distance or an affordable taxi ride of where you want to be, or have to be, you will be stuck. Reliant on friends, colleagues or family with cars to get to your workplace at the hospital where cuts mean management says there is no longer the money to pay for staff to get a taxi to work when the trains and buses have stopped running. Trapped from Christmas Eve when public transport stops running to 27 December when trains and buses resume though usually on a reduced service. 

You will be in a hotel at massively inflated prices. Or with relatives who make room for you along with all the other family members who don’t have a car or who have had to give up driving. 

You would have enjoyed spending perhaps just Christmas Day with friends or family but it’s all or nothing when public transport shuts down. Forced to arrive on Christmas Eve and captive until the day after Boxing Day place you are wrenched from your home and routines, reliant on a neighbour to feed the cat and dependent on a timer for the lights to keep burglars at bay.

It’s different in Europe. And not only because they give their presents on the 24th. Trains continue to run and no-one and nothing turns into a pumpkin when the clocks strike midnight. 

The company running the local trains that run south and east of Munich, says, “We run most of our services as many Germans travel to see their families on public holidays.” There’s more: they are contractually obliged by the German government to do so. 

And there has always been a public service run on those days. “Before 1998, the train service was exclusively under public authority. During the period of privatisation, maintaining or even increasing the level of customer service was of the utmost importance.” Tellingly she adds, “Also (and more importantly), we run services because we are glad to provide travel for our passengers.”

Over the years, I’ve written to the MP in each place I have lived, asking that they support my request for public services to run right through the year. The most recent reply said, “I note you are unhappy because there is no public transport on Christmas Day and only a skeletal service on Boxing Day. I think we need to keep Christmas Day and Boxing Day special. It is vital that there is time in our busy lives when families can be together.” 

Quite. But you need to be able to get there."
- Rebecca Lack 

A union's view

Mick Whelan"Britain's railways - a testament to Victorian engineering - date from the 19th century when Sundays, bank holidays, especially Easter and Christmas, were regarded as sacrosanct - as far more important then, than now, in our rather more secular society. People tended not to travel, shop or socialise on those days. It was 'a day of rest'.

Do not all workers, then, have the right occasionally to spend the odd weekend or scheduled holiday with their families? Especially in an industry that is fundamentally based on shift work - nights, afternoons, often working 13 days out of 14, many times 10 or 11 hours a day.

We recently had to fight in London for the right for workers in one sector of our industry to have the right to one Christmas in three off, and that took three years. Train drivers do not have a right to the scheduled bank holidays, and get compensatory days that are no good when you have a family, and are not always granted anyway, due to service requirements.

Let's not forget all those men and women that will be committed to work inordinate amounts of weekends and bank holidays, including Christmas, to maintain and replenish the railway and operate in the anti-social band of the freight sector all year.

So, in essence, I agree with the blog. All people should have the chance to be with their loved ones at Christmas but that means everyone. Not just railway workers but all transport and other services as well as NHS staff, firefighters, police and other workers. All should have a day they can occasionally call their own.

I do not say this lightly, as what we do the day before and after such holidays impacts on the quality of that time and it is often constrained or limited. So may I wish all those reading this the best Christmas that they can have, no matter what they do?"
- Mick Whelan, ASLEF