‘Strikes cause severe delays across the network, says Amber Rudd’s latest newsletter – but in the nine months of disruption on Southern, which started way before the RMT dispute with the company, there have been a mere 15 strike days.
As a Hastings resident who often attempts to use Southern trains, I have participated in demonstrations outside our local stations in support of rail users, who suffer the constant delays and cancellations, and of Southern staff, whose working lives are being messed around every bit as badly as our journeys are.
The vast majority of train-users who speak to us tell us fares are too expensive and franchise companies are more interested in their profits than our travel needs.
Many also say that they want a guarantee of properly trained staff on stations and on trains, to help the disabled, to prevent crime and disorder and to protect lone-travellers. They don’t trust the company after its many attempts to change the rules so it isn’t obliged to deploy staff.
At each demo though, there will be a few who rush past us angrily, saying ‘get back to work’ because they assume we are striking workers and that the bad service they experience is the fault of the unions. Most passengers know this isn’t true – if you don’t believe me, take a look at the Association of British Commuters or the National Pensioners Convention websites. They know that the disruption is due to the government’s mysterious toleration of bad operating companies.
And yet repeated press releases from the likes of Amber Rudd and Huw Merriman blame the unions, and when Southern executives appear on television, they do the same, often presenting the dispute as if it’s a squabble between drivers and guards over who gets to press a door button, or a rejection of modernisation.
This dreadful misrepresentation leads to frustrated passengers blaming the long-suffering railway staff when trains are cancelled.
Our attempts to travel will not get any better until the government either renationalises the railways or replaces these companies with ones willing and able to run a proper service.
What is delaying the resolution is the confusion caused by misleading statements from the likes of Rudd and Merriman, presumably made to defend the government’s bad choice of operating companies.
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