“The rail industry has, to put it politely, lost its touch with people,” DfT MD of Passenger Services tells MPs.
THE rail industry “has, to put it politely, lost its touch with people”.
That was the conclusion of Department for Transport Managing Director of Passenger Services Peter Wilkinson, speaking at the latest Transport Select Committee hearing into rail timetable changes on October 22.
Responding to a question about how the railway communicates and consults on major changes, Wilkinson told MPs: “The wider point you are making is absolutely right. The rail industry today has, to put it politely, lost its touch with people. It has lost its way in being able to communicate properly with passengers. With modern media, it escapes reason that they cannot communicate much more proficiently.
“It is something we are very concerned about in the Department. In fact, I think the way that passengers are communicated with is the subject of another ORR [Office of Rail and Road] review at the moment - particularly people who cannot receive information in conventional ways, for the reasons you pointed out. We are missing opportunities to engage and to work with the public, and to convey trust, through very poor communications in the industry.”
Also at the TSC inquiry was Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling, who rejected calls for fares freezes on Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway following disruption in the wake of the May timetable change.
“We have looked very carefully at the implications of freezing fares. We have looked very carefully at a number of changes on the fares front,” he said.
“The real issue around freezing fares is this: you just have to look at what has happened to Transport for London with its partial freeze. Transport for London is in deep financial difficulties at the moment, and not simply because of the challenges over Crossrail.
“The problem with a fares freeze is that if your costs continue to go up every year, and you continue to
pay more to your staff, you build a long-term and growing underlying problem within your own finances.
“Over a period of time, you are sucking a cumulatively larger and larger amount out of the money available to run the network. The only way of counteracting that is that people who do not travel on the railways have to pay more and more taxes to provide a counterbalance.
“We have to make some choices. Costs rise, staff get pay rises and fuel costs go up. Do you freeze fares and either accept service cuts or that the taxpayer has to pay more, or do you accept that there will be increases in fares but you will try to keep them down as far as possible?
“They have a permanent effect on the bottom line. It permanently sucks money out of the industry. You could take one year and say ‘we will use this block of money to cut fares’, but then you have to find the same amount of money the following year, the year after that and the year after that, in perpetuity long after the end of the franchise - or at some point the taxpayer has to come up with extra money or there has to be a double fare increase.”
Northern 150205 leaves Grindleford on October 22, with the 1449 Manchester PiccadillySheffield. Freezing fares on Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway, as a way of an apology for the timetable fiasco, was ruled out during Government’s appearance before the Transport Select Committee on the same day.
Wilkinson: “poor communications within the industry.”