I spent between 6.30 and 8.30 this morning meeting commuters at Rochester station, with supporters out in force covering Chatham, Strood and Cuxton stations at the same time.
Some commuters were back to work for the first time today after a near two week festive break, while others had returned last Thursday. I am grateful to all who have taken part in my Commuter Survey, and particularly to those who could raise a smile or friendly banter before dawn.
Most are benefitting from some of the smallest increases in rail fares that we have seen in January for many years. Although any increase is hard to bear, we have at last succeeded in our campaign to end above-inflation fare increases. One commuter wrote to me today:
“Mark Reckless pleased to see my #southeastern rail season ticket had only gone up by £10 this year. Makes a change. Good work.”
The last Labour government singled out Southeastern commuters for whopping fare increases of RPI inflation+3% every year, way above the RPI+1% they applied elsewhere, although commuters had their say at the 2010 general election when the North Kent constituencies saw massive 10% electoral swings from Labour to Conservative.
We cut back the RPI+3% increases to the same RPI+1% nearly everyone else was paying but this year we have gone further and ended above inflation average increases. Southeastern trains have only put up fares by an average of 2.8% this year compared to the 3.1% RPI inflation. This should fall further next year.
What about Customer Service?
Service levels on Southeastern have been pretty poor over the past few weeks, although we should note that not all has been their fault.
There has been weather disruption as well as the planned closure of the line through Gravesend, where the station has been refurbished to good reviews today. We also know that rebuilding London Bridge will be disruptive for some, although hopefully lead to a much improved service through that station when complete.
Why though should customers have to queue a dozen-deep at a single ticket machine, with similar numbers at a ticket office manned by just one person, when trying to pay money to Southeastern?
It was entirely predictable that peak numbers of commuters would need to renew season tickets, yet Southeastern appear to have made no proper effort to cater to that demand.
Southeastern are able to ‘surge’ with teams of enforcement staff at particular stations. Why not ticket sellers with mobile machines when needed?