Our investigation into the effects of driver only operation (DOO) dates back to early 2016, when RMT industrial action began on Southern Rail. The industrial dispute has now been affecting passengers across the UK for nearly three years – at great cost to the taxpayer as well as local and regional economies.
We have always believed this is a dispute-by-proxy, driven by a government which has shown a wilful disregard for disability rights and overall duty of care on the railway. In September 2018 we proved this claim once and for all with our exposure of a major disabled access cover-up inside the Department for Transport; releasing documents that showed their own statutory advisers had been advising against DOO for several years.
In February 2019, we received news of a major campaign victory when the Transport Select Committee released a letter from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, stating that they were “likely” to use their “unique enforcement powers” to challenge the discriminatory policies of DOO and unstaffed stations. You can read more about this recent news here.
Our investigation so far:
In July 2018, our FOI request to the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) exposed years of controversy within the Department for Transport. We published dozens of documents showing that the DfT’s own statutory advisers has been protesting the roll out of driver only operation since April 2016, calling DOO policies ‘toxic’ and ‘illegal’.
In June 2017, we published a buried report commissioned by the Rail Delivery Group and completed two years earlier. The report includes pages of reflection on the threat posed to disabled access by the 2011 McNulty Report, argues for the need to keep conductors on trains, and anticipates that unstaffed trains running through unstaffed stations will breach the Equality Act. It has since been published on the Rail Delivery Group’s own website and the entire episode is written up in the House of Commons library (pg 19-22).
The original RSSB report that made the safety case for DOO was leaked to Private Eye in 2016 and we posted a copy on our webite shortly afterwards. Its primary finding on safety was that DOO “may increase the likelihood of an event occurring or increase the severity of its consequence”. It also admits the likelihood of adverse effects on disabled access in terms of destaffing, creating a greater need to book ahead. Despite this, it makes an economic assessment that train mounted DOO cameras would be a desirable investment for the rail industry, combined with the ‘natural wastage’ of staff.
In August 2017, we published an email from Michael Woods, Head of Operations and Management Research at the RSSB, and responsible for the 2015 report on DOO. Upon challenge from rail accessibility experts from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, he explained that “mobile teams” of revenue staff and “not one-per-train” is “the way forward.” Peter Rayner, who represented CILT’s side of the argument in these emails, went public with his objections in 2017.
The email correspondence with Michael Woods revealed that the RSSB had been commissioned to write the report on DOO by the DfT and Rail Delivery Group – on the basis of a 2013 piece of research into passenger behaviour by Steer Davies Gleave. We have tried to get hold of this report for two years but to no avail, because the Rail Delivery Group are not subject to Freedom of Information Act. This report is undeniably in the public interest, and yet the rail industry is able – even now – to keep it under wraps. It is an absolute scandal of transparency that public service providers are able to evade the FOIA in this way, and we will not give up until they are made subject to freedom of information laws.