30 January 2008

Fares Strike

On Monday hundreds of passengers staged a "fares strike" by boarding First Great Western (FGW) train services in the Bristol and Bath areas without purchasing tickets in a protest against unreliable, uvercrowded trains and rising fares.

Some commuters bore specially printed tickets on which was written the slogan "Worst Late Western" and wore cattle masks in an attempt to disguise their identity. The day of action was organised by the protest group called More Train Less Strain (MTLS), who anticipated thousands of passengers all over the south-west of England would join in the the fares strike.

FGW came bottom of a passenger league table for satisfaction, published last week by Passenger Focus - the independent rail consumer watchdog. FGW operate train services between London and the South West, the Cotswolds, south Wales and the Thames Valley.

FGW said that of the majority of passengers who presented fake tickets, most had valid season tickets and so no action could be taken. A FGW spokesman said that only one person had pushed his way through a ticket barrier and that the company were deciding whether or not to prosecute.

FGW accept that "some services have been unacceptable... and we have had considerable dialogue with the public". Their own figures claimed that only 100 out of 100,000 daily passengers on Monday had refused to pay, collecting the names and addresses of the fare evaders.

In last week's Recent Transport Developments, we mentioned how FGW are to increase the compensation it offers its passengers by 100% following the non-operation of serivces, or for lengthy delays.

One of Monday's "fares strike" organisers, Martin Richardson, said "Commuters want a decent service at a fair price instead of increased compensation for some and a continued poor service for all. Frankly, we have lost patience with FGW and would seriously question their ability and commitment to running a train service."

One of the leaders of the MTLS action group, Peter Andrews, said "The sight of all these passengers with their cattle masks could not paint a clearer picture of the public's disapproval of this service".

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union backed the action being taken by the passengers, commenting that they had "every right to feel short-changed by a company that proves franchising cannot deliver the railway Britain needs".

Campaigners in Oxford decided to call-off their "fares strike" after the increase in compensation FGW announced it would make last week.

Zahra Akkerhuys, spokesman for Ox Rail Action, said: "We welcome the move to double compensation and the admission that the service has not been up to scratch. We are pleased FGW has acknowledged that they need to change. We want to give FGW the benefit of the doubt, but we will not let them off the hook. FGW must improve the punctuality and reliability of its trains. FGW has to start putting its passengers before profits and offer a high-quality and good-value service between Oxford and London Paddington. If it doesn't, we will reschedule the strike."