Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Welcome back to work - Deus Irae? or the woe of Thameslink

For many of us, today is the first day back at work after the Xmas and new year break. After the festivities, the alarm clock here went off at 6.30 to get the children up for school. What a day to come back to. On one such day, my old latin teacher at FCHS exclaimed as the wind howled and the rain poured down "Deus Irae". Today's weather is appropriate for the post holiday hangover we all have. For me, the first day back after the seasonal holidays is my least favourite day of the year. We find ourselves skint, facing the two harshest months of the year. We are welcomed back today to a huge hike in the cost of commuting into London. The reason for this is to "pay for investments" apparently. I have no issue with investments being paid for, but I seriously question the logic of paying for it by front loading it on to hard pressed commuters. Let me give you an example. Take my local service, the Thameslink line into London. Fares have been hiked, year after year to "pay for improvements". What has been the effect on the commuters of these improvements. Let me list a few :-

1. No direct service to Moorgate Station
2. The through service suspended for six months to construct the New St Pancras Station
3. Blackfriars tube Station shut for two years.
4. Massive overcrowding.
5. Removal of cross London Services for Sutton Loop.
6. No cross London services at weekends for years on end.

With all this disruption, you would think that rather than fare hikes, they should give passengers a discount whilst there journeys are constantly disrupted. For many people they pay the rises, but by 2016 when the program is finished, they will have retired. Years of disruption at extortionate prices, with what in return? Nothing. We are told that when the program is finished, there will be less overcrowding. I don't believe a word of it. If the service improves, more people will use it. I remember when the M25 was proposed, the argument was that it would "reduce overcrowding". What happened was the opposite. So you may say, how should the Thameslink program be paid for? It is clear to me that it should be paid from general taxation and borrowing. Capital programs produce a return on investments. Presumably there is a good business case for Thameslink and the benefits of the work will be felt for decades, if not centuries. Not only that, but people who never set foot on a Thameslink train will reap huge benefits from it. How you may ask? Because improved infrastructure opens up job opportunities, meaning that people can travel further to work, more quickly and more conveniently. This reduces unemployment and stimulates the economy. It removes cars from the roads, as people switch to rail, making other motorists journeys quicker and more pleasant. Who pays for major road projects? We all do. I rarely use the M1, but the roadworks North of Luton are paid for by me. Road commuters from Bedfordshire into London are subsidised by me, but as a regular rail user, they get a free ride from subsidising me. 

The UK has some of the highest fares in Europe and some of the lowest subsidies for travel. Who benefits from all this? The Thameslink service is operated by First Group under the First Capital Connect banner. Has First Group and it's shareholders suffered for this? Of course not. They have hidden behind the program as an excuse for a shoddy service. Regular users have suffered all manner of misfortune under this inept company. We had a period of months where the network virtually ground to a halt due to lack of trained drivers. We have had noticeboards which didn't work, resulting in many people boarding trains to completely the wrong destination. I had a conversation with a First representative about this. This is how the conversation went

Me: What are you doing about the fact your electronic destination boards are consistently not working
FCC: We are talking to our suppliers
Me: That is no use for me, why can't you have a system to tell passengers on the platform?
FCC: We do, we make announcements
Me: That is no use to me, I'm registered deaf (NB> I have a 44db hearing loss) and cannot usually hear them
FCC: Well that's your problem then, isn't it. You should check the front of the train or ask a member of staff.

The bottom line is that this company makes huge profits, is subsidised by the taxpayer and the passengers are lumbered with an uncaring monopoly. If and when they lose the franchise, no one will mourn their demise.

At the Mayoral election in May we have a clear choice and we have two people who have vastly different views on transport. We have Boris Johnson who stands for high fares and cares only for motorists in the posher London Boroughs and we have Ken Livingstone who has a consistant track record of standing up for lower fares and better all round transport infrastructure.

I asked a local Tory what Boris had done for Transport in Barnet. His answer "He got rid of the Bendy buses and he's developed the new Boris bus. He also got the cycle scheme going". An odd response really. There were no bendy buses in Barnet, we've seen one prototype bus delivered, which I've yet to see in Barnet and the cycle scheme hasn't come within miles of the Borough.

I doubt Ken Livingstone will do well in Barnet.I doubt that this fact is anything to do with his record on transport. In fact I doubt that it is based on anything more than a dislike generated by some comments to an Evening Standard reporter who was hassling him. I do understand this and I have some sympathy with the view, I just think it is crying shame that everyone in Barnet who commutes has to pay for these comments on a daily basis.

If like me you've been none too impressed with the performance of First Group, you may wish to sign this petition.

1 comment:

baarnett said...

Banner up in St Pancras this morning: