The fundamental right to travel: DPTAC gives us the ONLY advice we can trust on accessibility

The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) are statutory advisors to the Department for Transport on accessibility, making them the best possible source for an expert opinion with a front row seat on policy issues. We have previously published dozens of documents detailing their opposition to driver only operation and station destaffing; in which they cite their concerns about the potential Equality and Human Rights Committee legal action on this issue.

With this in mind, we believe that the Office of Rail and Road’s new ‘Accessible Travel Policy’ contains a regulatory hole around accessibility. Their new guidance to train companies aims to reduce the advance booking period from twenty-four to two hours by 2022, but includes no obligation to spontaneous ‘turn up and go’ travel. The ORR says that staffing issues are not part of its remit, but in view of their own duty under section 149 of the Equality Act, we asked them to comment. Unfortunately, they informed us that they would only be reconsidering this issue if government, the Williams Review or ‘other regulators’ took decisions in this policy area.

But, all is not lost. In the ORR’s July submission to the Williams Review, they place a strong emphasis on the need for a whole system approach to accessibility, based on clear criteria for both funding and staffing. And the ORR has made a very clear recommendation that this ‘whole system approach’ should be led by DPTAC.

Why are the DPTAC documents so important?

DPTAC’s May 2019 submission to the Williams Review provides exactly this outline of a ‘whole system’ approach. With the ORR’s backing, it is now undoubtedly the most important document on accessibility in the entire Williams Review:

DOWNLOAD HERE

quote bubble dptac orgs.PNGDPTAC recommends a ‘paradigm shift’ in which accessibility becomes a ‘fundamental’ part of the industry, rather then just an ‘add on’. Their May submission to the Williams Review includes a damning analysis of rail industry culture and structure; and calls for a ‘whole system’ approach that embeds accessibility ‘into the heart of what the rail industry does’. DPTAC also argues that rail vehicle accessibility legislation (TSI/RVAR) has provided a ‘relatively strong baseline’, and that there is now a strong case for new regulation with compliance deadlines for station accessibility. This would form part of a long-term funding strategy that could see the timeline to ‘full accessibility’ reduce from 100 to 40 years.

DPTAC’s May submission to the Williams Review is an essential report for all transport and disability rights campaigners and we ask for your help to spread it widely. It is important to remember that the government has set Williams’s remit to be ‘fiscally neutral’ – so it will take a great deal of campaigning and/or legal actions to get these demands over the line.

The ONLY quantified overview of rail accessibility?

Overview of UK rail accessibility

The biggest theme emerging from the latest DPTAC documents is the ‘urgent’ and ‘unmet’ need for research, and the ‘dearth of detailed data’ on staffing levels in particular. They make clear that the problem is endemic, with ‘no agreed approach to quantifying the accessibility of the rail network’ and in many areas ‘a lack of quantified data on specific aspects of network accessibility.’ The state of transparency around accessibility research remains a matter of serious concern to us, with the DfT still refusing to publish the ‘wholly inadequate’ Steer report on modes of train operation following our request for an internal review of their FOI decision.

The above statistics are taken from pages 2 to 3 of DPTAC’s submission to the Williams Review and are drawn almost entirely from the 2015 report ‘On Track for 2020’. This report is considered by DPTAC to be a ‘unique’ overview – and the most up-to-date source of quantified data on rail accessibility. And yet, this report was withheld until June 2017 by the Rail Delivery Group, when we published a copy and forced its official release.

Another important point to make is that the ORR will have gone forward with the publication of their new Accessible Travel Policy (ATP) based in part on the very same Steer research on ‘modes of train operation’ that DPTAC has stated is ‘wholly inadequate’ and should only be approached with ‘extreme caution’. Earlier this week, campaigner Doug Paulley succeeded in getting the ATP sent back to the ORR for a ‘rethink’ after threatening a judicial review over the accessibility of rail replacement buses – so is there scope to go further in other areas of the guidance too? We think it’s time to question whether the ORR is using the full extent of its regulatory powers – especially in regard to the changing landscape of railway staffing.

Other essential DPTAC documents:

  • DPTAC’s reponse to the DfT’s PAYG consultation goes into further detail about the need for a new staffing model at a time of technological change (April 2019): download here.
  • DPTAC’s initial submission to the Williams Rail Review goes into detail about the ‘urgent’ and ‘unmet’ need for research (January 2019): download here.
  • Read the full story of the Steer report controversy here.
  • Read DPTAC’s letter to Ministers about driver only operation and destaffing here.
  • Read DPTAC’s email chain containing urgent questions to Ministers concerning driver only operation and the Equality Act here.

Write to us at contact@abcommuters.com

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Exposed AGAIN! Disabled Access cover up at the Department for Transport

It’s been exactly one year since we published documents from the Disabled Person’s Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), revealing years of cover ups inside the Department for Transport concerning driver only operation (DOO). A month ago, we repeated our FOI request and can reveal that the situation around DOO and disabled access is now at breaking point.

The latest documents show that since April this year, DPTAC has been in open rebellion against the DfT due to a ‘wholly inadequate’ piece of research: ‘Effects of modes of train operation on passengers with disabilities’ by the consultants Steer. The very existence of this report has so far been concealed from the Transport Select Committee and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as the disability charities involved in the DfT’s ‘Inclusive Transport’ campaign.

The Steer Report – ‘Effects of modes of train operation on passengers with disabilities.’

In an outspoken letter sent to ministers on 2nd May this year, DPTAC states: ‘our headline advice is that the results of this work should be used with extreme caution […] our advice is that the research and Guidance Note fall very considerably short of articulating measures that mitigate the potentially very negative consequences of driver-only operation, when combined with unstaffed stations; a toxic combination for many disabled people that excludes them from using the rail network.’

In the letter, DPTAC challenges the legality of the DfT and train operating companies’ plans for DOO, questioning whether the running of unstaffed trains through unstaffed stations is consistent with the Department’s duties under the Equality Act 2010. The full letter to ministers can be viewed here:

After Andrew Jones’ appearance at the Transport Select Committee on 8th May, DPTAC scheduled an urgent meeting with ministers and sent ahead a list of demanding questions, also concerning the legality of plans for DOO:

The emails show that the meeting took place on 18th June 2019, but we have no further knowledge of DPTAC’s discussion with the rail ministers, and the Steer report itself remains held back under FOI (a decision we intend to challenge).

The DPTAC documents prove us right in our ongoing pursuit of a report by the consultants Steer (formerly Steer Davies Gleave). We had previously understood a 2013 Steer report to be the foundation of the entire DOO project, meaning that this new discovery of a piece of 2018 research is part of a six year history that has so far evaded all Parliamentary scrutiny. The following key documents demonstrate that the 2018 Steer report ‘Effects of modes of train operation on passengers with disabilities’ is yet a further stage in a process of policy development that’s been going on for years within the closed circle of the DfT, Rail Delivery Group and train operating companies.

Key documents: DPTAC’s Letter to Ministers dated 9th April, sent 2nd May  *  June 2019 emails – DPTAC arrange meeting with Transport Ministers and send urgent questions in advance  *  DPTAC’s second submission to the Williams Review – Working towards a fully accessible railway, 8th May  *  DPTAC’s response to the PAYG consultation, submitted 30th April 2019

Key correspondence: Email chain Dec 2018 to May 2019 – covering delays to Steer report, and delays to DPTAC’s letter to ministers  *  May 2019 – DPTAC discusses dispatch of letter to ministers and second submission to Williams review  *  June 2019 emails – DfT and DPTAC discuss confidentiality re the Steer report

The Steer Report on DOO – Timeline of Events

This blog continues with a timeline of the 2018 Steer report and a full download list of the documents in chronological order. We then provide a fuller background of the history of Steer’s research on DOO, and explain our concerns about the influence of train operating companies on the formation of policy. We conclude with an urgent list of requests to the Transport Select Committee.

Steer Timeline JPEG

The Steer Report on DOO – Timeline of Documents:

July – September 2018: The following documents show DPTAC meeting with Steer on 30th July, shortly after our 2018 exposé. In September, they are given the ‘final’ draft of the Steer report and provide their feedback.

July 2018 – DPTAC emails show a meeting took place with Steer on 30th July   *  DPTAC emails August 2018 – reaction to the ABC expose   *  DPTAC Main Meeting minutes – 20th Sep 2018   *  September 2018 – DPTAC receives a copy of the Steer report on DOO and responds to first version  *  DPTAC’s response to version 1 of the Steer report – 24th September 2018  *  Peter Wilkinson’s letter to DPTAC – 5th October 2018

September 2018 – March 2019: From September, DPTAC provides feedback on at least one further ‘iteration’ of the Steer report (called version 2 in the timeline above). There is then a long delay while the next version of the document is prepared by Steer and the Rail Delivery Group, with involvement from train operating companies.

DfT and DPTAC Rail Sub-Group Meeting minutes – 12th Oct 2018  *  DfT and DPTAC Main Meeting minutes – 7th Dec 2018  *  DfT and DPTAC Rail Sub-Group Meeting minutes – 12th Feb 2019  *  DPTAC response to the ORR consultation on Improving Assisted Travel – 18th Jan 2019  *  DPTAC’s initial response to the Williams Rail Review – 18th Jan 2019

March – May 2019: DPTAC receives the ‘final’ copy of the report on 6th March and responds by writing a strongly worded letter to ministers on 9th April. The letter is delayed by civil servants until 2nd May, when the Chair of DPTAC sends it directly to Andrew Jones ahead of his Transport Select Committee appearance. In the meantime, DPTAC responds to the DfT’s PAYG consultation, placing a strong emphasis on the need for an adequate staffing model amid the extension of smartcard technologies.

Email chain Dec 2018 to May 2019 – covering delays to Steer report, and delays to DPTAC’s letter to ministers  *  DPTAC’s Letter to Ministers dated 9th April, sent 2nd May  *  April 2019 emails – DPTAC submit their response to the PAYG consultation  *  DPTAC’s response to the PAYG consultation, submitted 30th April 2019

May – June 2019: On 8th May, the day of Andrew Jones’ Transport Select Committee appearance, DPTAC submits a powerful second submission to the Williams Rail Review. Emails over the following month show DPTAC scheduling a meeting with ministers for 18th June, and sending ahead a list of demanding questions concerning the legality of driver only operation.

May 2019 – DPTAC discusses dispatch of letter to ministers and second submission to Williams review  *  DPTAC’s second submission to the Williams Review – Working towards a fully accessible railway, 8th May  *  June 2019 emails – DPTAC arrange meeting with Transport Ministers and send urgent questions in advance  *  June 2019 emails – DfT and DPTAC discuss confidentiality re the Steer report

Background – the 2013 Steer Report

Since August 2017, we have been pursuing a 2013 Steer report known as “Driver only operation – passenger”, which we believe forms the basis of the entire DOO project. We first drew attention to the existence of this report with our publication of a 2014 email from Michael Woods of the Rail Safey and Standards Board (RSSB). However, the Steer report has been held back by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), who are not subject to freedom of information legislation. After we broke the story two years ago, the RDG refused to release the report under FOI, giving the following comment to press:

“In 2011, an independent report into making the railway more efficient recommended that driver only operated trains should be the default option across the network. Following this, a more detailed report was commissioned to investigate the financial implications of different ways of enacting this recommendation. As a public service which spends taxpayers’ money to better connect the country, it is only right that we look at ways to make our services more efficient but it is entirely normal that such analysis remains confidential. Where it is being introduced, careful consideration is being given to ensure that a second member of staff, not necessarily a guard, is available wherever appropriate to assist passengers.”

After three years of industrial action and with a looming legal threat against the government from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, there is little need to emphasise the public interest value of the 2013 Steer report. After FOI requests to the DfT, DPTAC, RSSB and the ORR we have discovered that the document is held only by the Rail Delivery Group. This means that the Association of Train Operating Companies has complete control and ownership over a document that we know has been foundational to policy. The fact that this document has been held back by the Rail Delivery Group for six years also provides the rail industry’s most urgent example of the need for FOI legislation to be extended to private contractors.

To date – the 2018 Steer Report

Our FOI request to DPTAC has revealed the existence of a 2018 Steer report on DOO, ‘Effects of modes of operation on passengers with disabilities’. Although we have been able to publish DPTAC’s damning verdict on its contents, the report itself has been withheld under section 22 (1) of the FOI Act – namely that the report is already ‘planned for publication’ by the Department for Transport.

However, it’s clear in the correspondence that ministers are deciding whether to publish, not when. An email from May 30th, where a DFT civil servant chastises a member of DPTAC for referring to the report at an ORR event, states that: ‘Ministers haven’t yet decided whether to share’ and ‘while some of the TOCs at the meeting today might have been aware when you raised it, the disability groups and EHRC definitely wouldn’t be.’

june confidentiality dft.PNGThe DPTAC email correspondence shows the 2018 Steer Report passing through at least three ‘iterations’, a process managed by the Rail Delivery Group in collaboration with consultants Steer – and in which they have sought feedback from train operating companies ‘to ensure recommendations are feasible’. The following excerpts from February 2018 further demonstrate this unhealthy dynamic:

steer report email feb update.PNG

From DPTAC meeting minutes – 12th Feb 2019:

Steer report feb update.PNG

Our requests to the Transport Select Committee:

(1) At his 8th May update to the Transport Select Committee, the Rail Minister Andrew Jones maintained that driver only operation is ‘not policy’. This is no more than an issue of semantics, relating to a behind-the-scenes legal wrangle over who holds the Public Sector Equality Duty in franchise contracts. The documents we’ve published today show that this legal discussion is already going on behind the scenes at the DfT, who are undoubtedly preparing for a legal challenge from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We call on the Transport Select Committee to seek sight of any legal advice provided to the Department, which could potentially influence changes to legislation following the Williams Review and is therefore in urgent need of oversight.

In particular, please note:

Points 2.6 and 2.7 of the DfT and DPTAC Rail Sub-Group Meeting minutes – 12th Oct 2018:

PSED.PNG

The following paragraph from a DfT civil servant sent to a member of DPTAC on 30th December 2018. You can view the full correspondence here: Email chain Dec 2018 to May 2019 – covering delays to Steer report, and delays to DPTAC’s letter to ministers

dft email to dptac 30 dec 2018

(2) We call on the Transport Select Committee to demand all ‘iterations’ of the Steer report(s) on driver only operation since 2013, and to question the Rail Delivery Group thoroughly on the report’s six year history. We will continue to request the 2018 Steer Report under FOI, but our primary concern is that documents are being withheld from the Transport Select Committee, meaning there can be no proper scrutiny of Departmental policy.

(3) We call on the Transport Select Committee to undertake an investigation into transparency and research standards at the DfT. Railway policy has been developed behind closed doors for up to a decade, and it is outrageous that this ‘research’ process appears to have been dominated by the Rail Delivery Group, the majority of whose members are train operating companies. The economic cost of conducting research in this way (without any parliamentary oversight or passenger/staff consultation) has been enormous, and yet the TSC hasn’t even been allowed to view the business case for DOO (which we also believe to be contained within the 2013 Steer report).

If you combine the economic impact of the industrial dispute, potential legal action from the EHRC, and the probable inadequacy and quick obsolescence of DOO technology; it is clear that – far from being an abstract concern – standards of research and transparency are a matter requiring urgent Parliamentary oversight.

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No justice and no responsibility: exposing the truth about Govia Thameslink Railway

Following our blog post last Thursday, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has confirmed GTR’s £5 million fine for its breach of licence relating to passenger information during last year’s May timetable crisis. As a result of our intervention, the final decision was announced on the day of the Williams Rail Review deadline (31st May).

It is the first time the ORR has imposed a fine for breach of licence, meaning that an important new precedent has been set for holding train operating companies to account. Their final penalty notice finds that GTR’s conduct around passenger information was “towards the negligent end of the spectrum” and says that the fine will provide a “transparent signal to the industry” about passenger information standards. After a full review of the documents we’ve discovered that the ORR went forward with this penalty despite submissions from GTR, the Department for Transport, and even Transport Focus, to accept a lower figure.

ORR graphics

After reviewing their final penalty notice, we believe that the ORR has not only succeeded in imposing a precedent-setting fine, but has also chosen to “show its teeth” in an extremely difficult context; where the Department for Transport was already complicit in the failure of GTR’s management contract. Could this decision be a sign that the Office of Rail and Road is getting stronger and fighting for passenger rights while every other rail agency and passenger watchdog is still letting us down?

GTR’s £5 million fine: what went on behind the scenes?

The £5 million fine was announced on 14th March, and followed by a 21 day consultation period, during which the ORR had the power to ‘reduce the fine to zero’ or ‘increase it several fold’ (according to paragraph 139 of their penalties policy).

The ORR had categorised the breach of licence in the ‘moderately serious’ category, and their decision to choose a £5 million ‘starting point’ was also moderate in this context (the ‘moderately serious’ category of offence has a starting point of up to £10 million). During the 21 day consultation period that ran until 5th April, submissions could be made to the ORR in to have the amount reduced, or for the train operating company to make an offer of “reparations”.

GTR completely refused responsibility

GTR made no offer of reparations and maintained the position throughout the consultation that the £5 million penalty should not be imposed at all, and that if it were imposed, that it should be a lower amount. The ORR’s final penalty notice makes clear that GTR has not acknowedged reponsibility:

there is a lack of evidence that GTR undertook a significant lessons learnt exercise relating to passenger information and have focused instead on the wider industry failings. GTR have not acknowledged responsibility for its failure to provide adequate information to passengers.” (paragraph 39)

The only other submission within the consultation period was made four days before the consultation deadline by Transport Focus, who encouraged the ORR to consider an offer of reparations, “assuming an offer is put forward”. As GTR had not made any offer of reparations, the ORR judged Transport Focus’ submissions to be ‘inapplicable’.

The Department for Transport supported Govia Thameslink Railway

The ORR’s final penalty notice also shows the Department for Transport advocating on GTR’s behalf. After news broke of GTR’s £15 million “fine” for the 2018 timetable collapse in December, the DfT wrote to the ORR suggesting they show restraint in imposing any penalty. They said in the letter that they had already “entered into an agreement” that GTR would “make an additional £15 million available” to “develop and implement initiatives” that would benefit GTR passengers.

After December’s letter, the ORR asked the DfT to further explain December’s £15 million “fine”. In a further letter on 20th February 2019, the DfT said the following.

“On the level of the fund I suspect all we could say is that we took all the facts and circumstances into account including the level of the previous payment made by GTR in relation to the 2016 problems on Southern, the desire to create a fund which could provide meaningful benefits for passengers and the financial position of the TOC: pointing out that with the fund set at this level GTR will make no profit at all this year in recognition of their role in the disruption.” (paragraph 59)

Considering the full history of the management contract between the DfT and GTR – especially the fact that the Department had already allowed GTR to buy out their liability for the timetable collapse – it is not clear whether this was in fact a “fine” or simply a “fund”, ie. just another “remedial measure” of the kind that the DfT has been making since 2016 to bolster the GTR contract – and with zero scrutiny.

What is the Passenger Benefit Fund?

Here’s the part where it gets interesting in relation to ongoing passenger information issues. Many commuters have expressed outrage about the £15 million ‘Passenger Benefit Fund’ posters that they have started to see all over the GTR network; which state that “GTR is contributing £15 million in tangible passenger benefits” and completely erases the true history of the company’s failure, without even a hint of an apology. It is clear to us that the advertising materials are an attempt to derive PR value and ‘reputational capital’ from what is essentially a false political communication in a public space. Several of us have already reported this issue to the Advertising Standards Authority, and we encourage you to join us by submitting your own complaint.

And after reading the ORR’s final penalty notice last Friday, it seems the situation is even worse than we thought:

  • “As for the Passenger Benefits Fund, ORR notes that it has not been provided with a copy of the agreement between GTR and DfT pursuant to which the fund was set up or any clear explanation of its purpose and scope.” (paragraph 58)
  • “ORR have become aware of a new website that has been set up in recent weeks in relation to the Passenger Benefits Fund which sets out how the funding will be allocated to the stations affected and how passengers can propose local or wider passenger benefit schemes. Under “wider passenger benefit schemes”, the site suggests some examples of possible schemes that would lead to passenger information improvements.” (paragraph 62)
  • “ORR recognises that the operation of the fund could result in some improvement to the provision of passenger information at specific stations (e.g. an additional CIS screen,) but only if a significant proportion of passengers support such an improvement. Further,it is not sufficiently clear whether the fund will go towards making passenger information improvements for it to have any, or any significant, weight in the penalty assessment. Finally, it is in any event highly doubtful whether any such forward-looking information improvements as may be brought about by the fund would constitute “reparations” to those who were affected by the breach [of passenger information rules].” (paragraph 63)

Join us to make an unstoppable passenger watchdog:

Since the start of their disastrous management contract in 2015, no existing watchdog has been good enough to represent passengers’ interests on GTR, or ensure accountability. The ORR’s final penalty notice shows that the Department for Transport is, even now, advocating on GTR’s behalf, and proves that oversight is urgently required on the Passenger Benefit Fund.

As always, we have noone to rely on but ourselves – a grass roots network of passengers. If you’re as shocked as we are about the standards of dishonest communication on our railways, then please make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority and include a link to this blog post. Please also do all you can to alert press, local councillors and MPs, as very little of this story is reaching the mainstream media.

Our submission to the Williams Rail Review is coming soon! It covers the full GTR story and will explain all the barriers to justice and accountability that we’ve encountered throughout this investigation. If you would like to help us, please donate here.

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Confirmed: The Williams Rail Review WILL consider public ownership

We are pleased to report that last Friday’s event at the Department for Transport was a great success. The Williams Review team have now confirmed that they WILL indeed be considering public ownership, and WILL take submissions from the public up until the end of May (not 18th January as previously advertised.) We also had the chance to speak with a representative from the Williams Rail Review team and made the point that we want this review to be transparent and democratic from the start.

We Own It.PNG
We Own It co-organised the event – read more at weownit.org.uk

Comment from the Rail Review team

“The government’s vision is for the UK to have a world-class railway, working as part of the wider transport network and delivering new opportunities across the nation. The Williams Rail Review, led by independent Chair Keith Williams, was established to recommend the most appropriate organisational and commercial frameworks to deliver this. The Review is deliberately comprehensive in scope and Keith Williams has been asked to be bold in his thinking, challenging received wisdom and looking to innovate. The Review is considering all parts of the industry, from the current franchising system and structures, to further devolution, accountability and value for money. Keith is supported by an independent challenge panel, with expertise in business, customer service, and the rail and broader transport sector. The Review will conclude with a Government White Paper at the end of 2019 and we expect reform to begin from 2020 so passengers benefit, as soon as possible.

The Review is exploring the full spectrum of reform options in every case. Keith Williams and the team have been and continue to conduct an extensive listening exercise across the entire rail industry and those that use it. This includes a number of visits across Great Britain to better understand the differing experiences of the current railway and the commissioning of new, objective research into the thoughts and needs of rail passengers.  As part of this listening exercise, Keith Williams is happy to meet ABC and the Review team can arrange this.

The Review’s Call for Evidence is a vital part of Keith William’s information gathering and listening to those with experience of the railway. The Call for Evidence will remain open for much of the Review but may seek different levels of input as its work develops. Currently it has requested a broad input to match its terms and ensure it captures all views from the start. As Keith Williams develops his ideas, further input will be requested against more specific questions.

Keith Williams and the Review team can be sent information through the call for evidence or alternatively their dedicated mailbox: Rail.Review@dft.gov.uk.

Further details on the remit of the Williams Rail Review can be found on our terms of reference (https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/rail-review) and we would very much welcome any evidence you may have, which can be submitted through the call for evidence (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/williams-rail-review), for consideration.”

For the background to our investigation into the Williams Review click here, then here.

Our Next Steps

We have accepted Keith Williams’ offer of a meeting and hope to speak with him in March, at around the time he will be feeding back the first findings of his review. In the meantime, we will be writing up our own submission on the transparency and democracy issues we have encountered through multiple investigations into GTR and one major court case against the DfT. If you would like to contribute your thoughts on these topics, please write to contact@abcommuters.com.

ABC is a campaign for transport justice and democracy and thus will not be discussing renationalisation in our submission. This is important because it allows us to take a razor sharp look at transparency issues that go beyond the economic debate, in relation to 1) unresolved issues with the GTR contract and May timetable collapse 2) disabled access cover ups and driver only operation 3) passenger/consumer rights and 4) freedom of information.

If you are in favour of rail renationalisation or would like to contribute your ideas about a new vision of public ownership, we suggest contributing to We Own It’s campaign on the Williams Rail Review, here.

To respond to the Williams Rail Review, click here.

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Does the Williams Rail Review really intend to engage with passengers?

Since December 2018, we have been investigating the remit of the Williams Rail Review and asking that it stays true to the democratic principles Chris Grayling described in Parliament last October.

grayling parliament.PNGThe Secretary of State for Transport has said that he recognises the need for a ‘rail revolution’ and that ‘no stone will be left unturned’ in efforts to find a more ‘joined up system’. However, it has also been widely reported that he will not consider renationalisation. Keith Williams, chair of the review, meanwhile told the BBC that ‘all options are on the table’. For more about the ongoing controversy, click here.

dav
Daily Mirror, 17/01/18: Controversy over the Williams Review continues as campaigners prepare to deliver a 120,000 strong petition to the Department for Transport. We’ll be there tomorrow at 10 am to report back.

Our questions to the Department for Transport

Ten days ago, we asked the DfT to clarify whether the remit of the Williams Review is based on or limited by the government’s pre-existing vision of a franchising strategy. We asked if Keith Williams has complete freedom to evaluate public ownership and other non profit solutions for the railways. We specifically asked whether he is free to allocate resources as he wishes – and if so how much resource he will be allocating to these discussions.

Our questions were declined by the DfT and we were told to expect a response from the Rail Review team. However, this response has now been delayed ten days – which were also the final ten days of public submissions to the consultation as advertised by rail industry and Network Rail body the Rail Delivery Group.

RDG tweet.PNG

The closing date for submissions from the public was updated in mid December on the DfT website to the end of May, clarifying that the deadline of 18th January was in fact just a ‘listening’ phase. So, if the Williams Rail Review is indeed going to consider public ownership then this fact has not been advertised or made open in any way to the public. This is a cause for concern and a question that must be asked in the clear public interest.

The Rail Delivery Group has commented

The Rail Delivery Group responded to our questions about this issue and redirected us to the Williams Review team, from whom we still await comment. In response to our question about whether Keith Williams will consider public ownership in his review the RDG added: “The Williams Review team would be best placed to answer this, as it’s about their plans. Last summer, we said that all options should be considered.”

We will publish in full any response we receive from the Williams Rail Review when we receive it, and hope to also let you know of any opportunities to speak with him directly. Those passengers and commuter groups who have suffered the most through last year’s crisis should have a seat not only ‘at the table’ – but at the head of the table.

Let’s make 2019 the year of #RailRevolution

We will be submitting an ABC report to the Williams Rail Review, and keeping our own consultation open until the beginning of May, in time for the actual consultation closing date of end of May. Our contribution will be limited to issues around transparency, democracy, passenger rights and participation and will not address issues of transport economics directly. If you wish to contribute your insights or experiences please write to us at contact@abcommuters.com with the subject line: Transparency Report.

The ABC Transparency Report will summarise our investigations into Govia Thameslink Railway, the Department for Transport and the issues of driver only operated trains and disability access. Please note, this project will be independently funded through our GTR Crowdjustice page. If you would like to donate much needed funds to this investigation, please contribute here.

Join us tomorrow at the Dept for Transport, 10 a.m.

We Own It, Care 2 and Bring Back British Rail will be delivering a petition to the DfT tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. and members of the ABC team will be there to report back.

We are hoping to get the chance to meet Keith Williams and speak with him directly. And we’ll be sure to let him know that there are many of us who want to get involved with a democratic public dialogue that goes beyond political and partisan concerns. At this time of historic political uncertainty, it does not make sense to waste more taxpayers’ money on a review that is limited to just one party’s vision for public transport. The only democratic way forward is to invite public participation so that the UK can finally have a transparent conversation about rail in a totally independent forum.

The petition for public ownership has 120,000 signatures and is a sure reflection of the fact that over 60% of the British public want to see a form of public ownership for the railways. UK rail franchising is broken and it’s time to talk about what a truly progressive twenty first century transport system should look like.

To respond to the Williams Rail Review, click here.

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Exposing the truth about GTR’s bailout – the ABC court transcript

The ABC Court Transcript

Thanks to generous donations from our supporters, we are now able to publish the full transcript of our oral hearing, and will be forwarding a copy of the following documents to the Transport Select Committee, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.

Extract from the court transcript: QC Clive Sheldon offers adjournment compromise

Judgement from Mr Justice Ouseley

Full transcript of the oral hearing

This Court hearing and Judgement have been officially transcribed by DTI Global and made available with the permission of Judge Justice Ouseley. The Crown gives blanket permission for copying and distribution of transcripts for any legitimate criminal justice function and/or for access to personal data. We are sharing these documents for transparency of our members who helped crowdfund both the original case and purchase of the transcript. ABC Limited does not own the copyright – copyright of all transcripts remains with the Crown and DTI Global as the official transcribers.

Our Crowdfunder is open for another 9 days! Please donate if you can – all funds raised will go towards our campaign to seek the truth about the GTR contract.

The history of our case

In September 2016, over two thousand of our supporters came together to raise £50,000 for a Judicial Review of the Department for Transport over the Southern Rail Crisis. Our main ground was the unreasonable delay taken by the Secretary of State in enforcing the GTR contract regarding contractual breaches, which had been under consideration for 14 months at the time of our court submission.

A two and a half hour oral hearing took place on June 29th 2017 and the Judge ordered the DfT to produce the force majeure determinations within two weeks or go forward to a Judicial Review. He made this conditional judgement because of assurances from the QC that the force majeure decision was already ‘imminent’ (a discussion detailed in our court documents above).

The DfT announced their decision on the last day of the deadline – a £13.4 million penalty for performance breaches, going back to GTR’s first breach of contract in July 2015. It wasn’t strictly a fine, however – the money would be reinvested into the GTR network as an ‘improvement package’ – including 50 more onboard staff.

It was not until January 2018’s National Audit Office report that we learned that Govia Thameslink Railway had in fact been permitted to buy out two years of their performance liability at £10 million. This period also covered their future liability for performance, up until September 2018 – thus extending through the period of the May timetable collapse.

GTR fine

The NAO report describes ‘fast moving negotiations’, a ‘rapid timescale’ and ‘verbal decisions’ made in the 14 days after our court case, noting that they had not seen evidence of any formal discussions about the amount GTR would be willing to pay to settle its obligatons. It also states:

“At the time of writing, it is unclear how the Department will incentivise Govia Thameslink to deliver good services for passengers in the future, having removed its ability to use financial performance penalties up to September 2018.” (p.38)

Rail Plan 2020 – a new era of smoke and mirrors?

In the aftermath of the May timetable collapse, there is an urgent need to clarify whether the Department for Transport has any legal standing to enact penalties on GTR for the ongoing chaos and poor performance. We fear it does not, based on comments from David Brown, CEO of The Go Ahead Group, reported by The Times on 7th September.

“Mr Brown said that the rail company would make a robust challenge to any attempt by the government to impose a fine or cancel the franchise as punishment for the fiasco. He insisted that it had not breached its contract.”

However, Peter Wilkinson, the senior civil servant involved in agreeing the deal, assured the Public Accounts Committee in February that there were still performance mechanisms in place despite GTR’s buy out of future liability. (For the full discussion, see the Committee transcript, Q182 – Q194.)

At a time when everyone is focused on placing the blame for the May timetable collapse, we fear that the toxic contractual situation and three year history of rail crisis associated with GTR will be forgotten. Has the Department for Transport in fact given away all the power to its subcontractor, on top of a fatally flawed contract?

PQ grantshapps.PNG

We ask how the Department for Transport can hold GTR to account if it has already given away all its power to enact penalties on the company? How can the ORR provide an ‘independent’ review since they were also on the Industry Readiness Board and are appointed by the DfT? And how can we expect the DfT to act in the public interest if it fears legal action from The Go Ahead Group?

After three years of ‘The Southern Rail Crisis’, we have no faith in the DfT’s leadership, and it seems that hundreds of people agree with us…

Grayling inquiry tweet.PNG

Our Crowdfunder is open for another 9 days! Please donate if you can – all funds raised will go towards our campaign to seek the truth about the GTR contract.

 

New Judicial Review case starts today – led by passenger group Bring Back British Rail

The passenger-led campaign group Bring Back British Rail announced this morning that they have started a Judicial Review on the East Coast and have already dispatched a pre-action letter to the Secretary of State for Transport.

In the letter, they highlighted Chris Grayling’s words to Parliament on 5th February this year when he said that Stagecoach had “breached a key financial covenant” and “Stagecoach [had] got its numbers wrong”. Despite the breach of this “key financial covenant” the Transport Secretary has already decided that Stagecoach may be permitted to run the East Coast franchise again, and has even included them on a shortlist of bidders for the East Midlands franchise.

Bring Back British Rail believe that the franchising farce can’t be allowed to continue. In their letter to Chris Grayling today, their lawyers Leigh Day have asked him to confirm:

  1. that he will revoke the Franchise Passports granted to Stagecoach and/or Virgin and/or suspend them pending a full investigation of what went wrong.
  2. whether the costs of terminating the franchise have in fact been met or could be expected to be met by the fulfilment of Stagecoach’s obligations.

To date, the Secretary of State has failed to answer the second question in full, despite the fact it is crucial for everyone to understand how much Stagecoach and Virgin will have cost us taxpayers.

Bring Back British Rail now aim to raise a minimum of £15,000 in the next 30 days. We’ll be supporting them as much as we can and hope our followers will do the same – you can read more about the case and donate here.

A Recent History of Judicial Reviews in Rail

A Judicial Review of the Department for Transport is essentially the holy grail of transport campaigning. Over the last decade, we have seen the DfT go to great lengths to avoid the scrutiny that such a legal case could provide. If BBBR’s new case is successful, we can expect the smokescreens to finally lift on the practices of the entire department.

2012 – Virgin’s Judicial Review over the west coast franchise

In August 2012, Virgin began judicial review proceedings to challenge the award of the west coast franchise to FirstGroup. Just a month into the pre-action proceedings, the DfT withdrew from their decision, announcing the discovery of ‘significant technical flaws in the franchising process’ and suspending several key civil servants in the process.

The sudden cancellation of the franchise award cost taxpayers at least £50 million and the Public Accounts Committee warned that the cost might be “very much larger”. You can refresh your memory of the PAC Committee’s view of the affair here.

It was this fiasco that led to the Brown Review on rail franchising, which claimed that rail franchising was not in fact broken and made a set of recommendations for its improvement. A short while later, the Govia Thameslink Railway management contract was put together, based on a very radical interpretation of Brown’s recommendations (and leaving 100% revenue risk with the taxpayer).

2017 – ABC’s Judicial Review over the GTR management contract

In the midst of the Southern Rail crisis of 2016, we launched Judicial Review proceedings into the GTR management contract, crowdfunding an initial £25,000. Over six months later, our application to JR was turned down on paper by a single judge. Convinced of the merits of our case, we crowdfunded again to take the DfT to an ‘oral hearing’ on whether the JR case could go forward.

In June 2017, we met the DfT in court and discussed our main ground for JR in the High Court for 2.5 hours. The ground discussed was the delay to the force majeure decision on GTR’s continual franchise breaches since the very beginning of their contract. As was widely reported at the time, the DfT argued strongly that the force majeure decision was already “imminent” and about to go public. In a move that nobody expected, the Judge made a conditional judgment, requiring the DfT to announce their decision within two weeks. You can read our full report of the court case here.

On the final day of the two week deadline, the DfT announced that it was asking GTR to pay £13.4 million in the form of an ‘improvement package’ to go straight back into the company (including hiring an extra 50 OBS staff). In claiming they had fulfilled the Judge’s condition, they then came to us for over £17,000 in costs, which we paid shortly afterwards (narrowly escaping bankruptcy).

In January 2018, the NAO report on the TSGN franchise was finally released, giving the full background to how the force majeure decision had been made. Pages 39 to 41 of the report clearly state that a rushed and ‘verbal’ agreement was made in the days after our court case, in which it was agreed that GTR could buy out two years of their liability – even extending into the future (until Sep 2018). This meant that they could completely avoid ever having to prove the often cited effect of “unofficial industrial action” or “sickness strikes” that they had claimed throughout the course of the Southern Rail Crisis. To date, these claims have never been proven, despite providing the thrust of the DfT’s anti-union messaging.

The man behind this hasty force majeure deal was the MD of Passenger Services at the DfT, Peter Wilkinson. A further investigation into his alleged conflicts of interest had been conducted in early 2017 and had been expected to conclude in the NAO report with an enquiry into the circumstances of both GTR and c2c franchise awards. Though we had previously published the first half of this NAO investigation, there was no mention of it whatsoever in their final publication.

Our inquiry into what happened in court last year is far from over. Please follow ABC on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with more revelations coming out this month and throughout 2018!

And please, if you can, support our friends at Bring Back British Rail. Cases like these are always David vs Goliath and they will need all the support we can give throughout this time.

 

 

 

 

The time has come for ABC Phase Two: help us campaign for justice and transparency in UK rail!

After a year of hard work and dedication to the #SouthernFail cause; ABC and its 2,000 financial backers are finally starting to see their efforts bear fruit! On 29th June, we pulled off the biggest democratic check on Chris Grayling yet; in the form of a court decision that forced the DfT to finally decide the issue of Force Majeure – 16 months after their deliberations began.

The resulting £13.4 million fine was enough to satisfy the Judge’s deadline of 13th June, meaning that our judicial review cannot go forward. This money is now being channeled back into Southern Rail in the form of yet another remedial plan – and there is certainly irony in the fact that £5 million of the ‘fine’ is now being used to fund extra staff on Southern Rail, when their well-known understaffing model was a major cause of the service’s collapse in the first place.

We believe that this reinvestment of Govia’s ‘fine’ is nothing more than an attempt to re-balance contract specifications that were so catastrophically conceived that they were bound to fail from the very start. In the words of a recent article in Railway Magazine:

“…the Department for Transport’s desire to merge the Thameslink, Southern and Gatwick Express operations into the biggest rail franchise in history has instead simply created a monster – one that is now out of control.”

There is so much more to do in unravelling the causes of this ongoing rail crisis; and ABC plans to be bigger, bolder and more influential than ever in the next phase of building our non-profit organisation – dedicated to the cause of justice and transparency in all UK transport policy.

We are still crowdfunding to pay our legal fees, survive bankruptcy by the DfT, and fund further legal investigations into: 1) the full Southern Rail franchise agreement; and 2) an Equality Act challenge on driver-only-operated trains. We really need to hit £30,000 in the next 20 days – all of which will go into our legal fighting fund to help us take new actions forward. Please donate whatever you can!

There is so much more to do…

This has been a David vs Goliath battle from the start. Our crowdfunder of September 2016 raised £26,000 – which has been our total legal resource for almost a year. The vast majority of all legal and publicity work has been done on a voluntary and skill-sharing basis among a close network of lawyers, commuter researchers and citizen journalists. To date, ABC has received just one £5,000 grant (from the Foundation of Integrated Transport) – and yet, we have already achieved more than anyone thought possible.

The ABC ‘project’ has never been just about the judicial review case. Our legal action instead formed a backbone to extensive legal, lobbying, publicity and research efforts that will continue exactly as before – and in fact, will only get bigger. We now have an excellent platform from which to promote change in UK transport policy and we intend to use it.

Our innovative “digital DIY” techniques and unique experiments with crowd-sourced investigative journalism have already changed the face of transport campaigning, and this is just the start. What our critics do not realise is that we’ve not only been campaigning on Southern Rail for a year – we’ve also been creating a radical business plan; one that we can’t wait to implement in the creation of “ABC 2.0”. Through collaborative work and grass roots organising, we are now set to take our campaigning model all over the country – at a time when rail passengers have never needed it more.

We urgently need to keep our independence, and continue our work:

In the last two months, we have had some of our biggest successes yet. We have published exclusives on: 1) urgent health and safety concerns at Victoria station; 2) information from the Gibb report, which possibly lead to its release; 3) an RMT offer (declined by GTR) that represented their biggest compromise yet; and most controversially of all: 4) a two-year buried Rail Delivery Group report on disabled access, which strongly argues for keeping the conductor on the train.

All of these issues (and many more) are still being investigated by ABC, and there is much work to do in fully uncovering the truth behind them. This is the reason for our appeal – we must urgently restore our legal fighting fund if we are to have adequate legal support and resources to continue our work.

Every contribution makes a difference – so please donate the price of a train ticket today, and ask a fellow commuter to do the same! Our future is in your hands, and we are forever grateful for the help and support from our community – without it, none of this would have been possible.

We aim to hit £30,000 by 16th August! Please help us by donating here.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest news – and more exclusive releases that the government and rail industry don’t want you to see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exclusive: Buried report on rail access now available to download

Yesterday, we announced our discovery of a vital report on rail accessibility, commissioned by ATOC (now the Rail Delivery Group) and completed in May 2015. Nobody had viewed or even had knowledge of this document’s existence until now – despite the repeated calls from disabled people, campaigns like ABC and Transport for All, and even the Transport Select Committee; for proper oversight of disabled access during Southern Rail’s chaotic implementation of DOO.

It now seems that over a whole year of calling for impact assessments and a proper, transparent public discussion of the impact of DOO on disabled and older people; a report had already done just that and has been sitting in a drawer at the Rail Delivery Group for the past two years.

What does this mean for our legal case on Thursday?

The most ironic thing of all in the report coming to us at this time is the strong potential for legal challenge it clearly lays out. The Equality Act 2010 is a weak, ongoing process built by case law; and the breach of the Act occurring when Southern Rail runs unstaffed trains to unstaffed stations has already been said by many esteemed commentators and lawyers to be an extremely strong case if we can get it in front of a judge.

We urgently need your help to fund our ongoing investigations and actions and would greatly appreciate even the smallest donation or Facebook share of our Crowd Justice fundraiser.

With the Department for Transport preferring an “outcome-based” rather than a “compliance based” approach to the Equality Act, we believe that they not only exempt themselves from these rules, but rather fear new case law being made that will compel them to comply. The report states it is “highly likely” that this will happen and “likely” that this in turn will have an effect on the legal position regarding the provision of disabled access. It is up to us to make this happen.

A witness statement from last week

Both ABC and Transport for All receive regular, if not weekly, reports of access failures on Southern Rail. Here is the most recent we received; describing an experience that has become all too familiar to disabled passengers:

“I’m a wheelchair user. On the 23rd June 2017 I travelled from London to Brighton. I had booked ramp assistance for the outward journey three days in advance. But booking made no difference: platform staff at Victoria didn’t know about my booking, and when I arrived at Brighton, no one came with a ramp to get me off the train: station staff had absolutely no idea I was on the train. I was very angry. For my return journey, staff at Brighton promised to inform Victoria I was on my way. But on arrival at Victoria, again no one came to assist me with a ramp – no one had informed Victoria I was coming. These are NOT isolated incidents: it happens to me very often, and it’s upsetting and annoying and causes much anxiety. Southern Rail pays empty lip service to accessibility for all passengers, but the reality is that they don’t give a toss and refuse to implement policies and procedures which actually make the promised assistance solidly reliable.”

On Track for 2020? The Future of Accessible Rail Travel

The full report can be downloaded here:

On Track for 2020 – Full report

 

To donate to our crowdfunder, click here.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates.

 

 

 

Exclusive: ABC reveals buried RDG report on disabled access, which strongly advises keeping the guard on the train

Since launching an urgent crowdfunder for our ongoing legal action against the Department for Transport on Monday 19th June, we have received an anonymous package in the post.

The package contained a vital report on rail accessibility, commissioned by ATOC (now the Rail Delivery Group) and completed in May 2015. ‘On Track for 2020? The Future of Accessible Rail Travel’ has been kept under lock and key until now and we release it today in the belief that every disabled and older citizen in the UK has the right to be informed of its contents. It would appear that somebody within the rail industry thought so too.

Our researchers (a group of volunteer passengers) have now studied the report’s contents in depth – and discovered that it contains strongly termed advice about the anticipated effect of the nationwide trend towards DOO (driver only operated trains) on disabled and older people.

What’s so controversial about this report?

The contents of the report represent part of an argument over DOO that has received shamefully little attention by the press and politicians, many of whom have chosen instead to write off the unions’ concerns as “inexplicable”. We can no longer stand for the concerns of disabled and older people to be treated as “niche”; while out-of-context news about a “£75,000 offer” made to drivers is allowed to dominate the headlines.

We point towards the report’s own argument that the economic benefit of providing spontaneous access to disabled and older people actually far outweighs the cost. Of course, the economic argument is only necessary if the moral, societal, and legal ones are not enough! On the legal note, the report includes worrying implications in the statement that the Department for Transport prefers an “outcome-based” rather than a “compliance based” approach towards the Equality Act 2010.

The report supports ABC’s arguments by strongly distinguishing between metro and rural parts of the rail network, and stating that the practice of running unstaffed trains running to unstaffed stations is a breach of the Equality Act. It says definitively: “It is Conductors who are best placed to ensure that assistance is delivered effectively and in accordance with the law.”

Controversially, the report contains extensive discussion of the “clear trends” arising from the McNulty report in regard to de-staffing; and its authors repeatedly note their opposition to prospective policy changes that might allow unstaffed trains to run to unstaffed stations.

Why are we publishing?

It is clear that this is a high quality report, and one that was originally written for the benefit of both policy-makers and those who work on the railway. In addition to this, the near-total exclusion of disabled and older people from the DOO debate has gone on so long that we believe that the public has the right to view its recommendations.

The entrenched industrial dispute could also be solved right now with the provision of a proper”Guard Guarantee” – and this would have the benefit of ending industrial action on the Southern Rail network, just as it enters its second year.

‘On Track for 2020?’ is a comprehensive study and also covers aspects of rail accessibility about which its authors take a positive view. Because we have limited resources to reproduce our paper copies in full; we publish a set of extracts and an early synopsis of those issues around staffing and access that have been most relevant to our members. We also include copies of the report’s contents pages, executive summary and other documents; to redress the balance of our edited extracts, and demonstrate their context.

We have distributed the report to disability rights groups so that they may also contribute analysis according to their own areas of expertise. In addition to this, we will endeavour to produce a full digital version as soon as time and resources allow (unless of course the Rail Delivery Group wishes to respond by releasing the full publication).

Why has this report been buried for so long?

This discovery comes just days after the 6-month-delayed release of the Gibb report; just as journalists and MPs raise calls for a proper analysis of its editing decisions, and the release of the redacted Appendix Nine.

ABC’s disabled members have been very upset that the issue of disabled access was entirely absent from the Gibb Report. This issue has previously been absent from the RSSB report on DOO; as well as recent ORR publications, which focus mainly on the methodology of DOO and may not be providing adequate oversight of the activities of Southern Rail in regard to new staffing practices.

The Transport Select Committee emphasised the urgent need for a disability impact assessment on GTR in their November 2016 report, yet even now our campaign takes regular witness reports from disabled people who have been abandoned on trains and platforms by Southern Rail; often due to the absence of a second member of staff on board.

Ironically enough, the report makes for an excellent endorsement for our current legal case on disabled access, and notes that there is currently “very little case law” and that it is “highly likely that at some point relevant case law will be made”. It also states: “it is likely that case law will in future have an impact on accessibility”.

ABC’s resources are now stretched to the max! Please donate to our legal crowdfunder and share on social media

 

On Track for 2020? The Future of Accessible Rail Travel

Co-authored by Ann Frye Ltd, Rail Accessibility Ltd and MWW Transport Consultants.

Final Report, May 2015

This Report was commissioned by the Association of Train Operating Companies (now the Rail Delivery Group) to consider how accessible Britain’s railway network will be to older and disabled people by 1st January 2020 (the date by which all rolling stock must meet legal accessibility requirements).

Brief overview of the report’s contents regarding DOO and staffing – paraphrased as accurately as possible by the ABC team:

ABC analysis – briefest version

ABC’s own extracts from the report, with analysis

On Track for 2020 – with ABC analysis and extracts

A longer document of relevant extracts, including page numbers and references

On Track for 2020 The Future of Accessible Rail Travel – extracts with page refs and footnotes

Image documents:

Cover page

Contents

Executive Summary

Annex One The Legal Framework

Annex Two Organisations Consulted

Annex Three Project Team

 

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To donate to our legal crowdfunder, or get up to date on our legal news, click here.