We have been working hard on our responses to the many questions in the consultation paper on the requirements for the new Southeastern franchise from December 2018. There’s lots to say, and we will be sharing some of our draft responses here for public comment and improvement. This third instalment is to the questions on stations and accessibility.
- What further comments, if any, do you have on our plans to improve access and facilities at stations?
All stations should be staffed, and staff there should be able to sell tickets and give customer information and assistance. As noted below, this would also allow a “turn up and go” provision for assisted travel.
Toilet are frequently closed in the early evening – even if the station is still staffed. Station toilets should be open throughout the hours of rail service.
Station maintenance issues, including safety and security issues like lighting, are regularly ignored by Southeastern for months on end, especially at small and unstaffed stations. Although local staff are supposed to inspect stations daily, we understand this only happens when staff are available. There should be a minimum standard for fault-fixing at stations, including a standard of “within 24 hours” for problems with lighting, toilets, doors, lifts and other frequently used items. The franchisee should be financially incentivised to meet these standards.
The operation of car parks has been sub-contracted by Southeastern in ways that reduce accountability and have poor customer service. So:
- car parks should be a clear franchisee responsibility. The car parks and the payment collection should be clearly branded only in the identity of the franchisee.
- all customer communications, including customer service lines, complaints and appeals, should be via the franchisee’s main customer service channel and handled in an integrated fashion.
Southeastern have recently removed the facility to pay cash (and the ticket payment machines altogether) at some stations. There was no consultation on this. Alternative methods of payment involve extra charges (either a transaction fee or use of a premium-rate telephone number). Different car parks have different ranges of payment methods available. So:
- all car parks should have the same range of methods of payment available throughout the network
- all car parks should have the option of purchasing a ticket at the car park.
- all car parks should have the option of purchasing a ticket for cash at the car park
- car parking should have the same cost to the customers whichever channel is used to purchase it. There should be no transaction fees or use of premium-rate telephone numbers.
- car parks should operate on a “Can’t Pay, Don’t Pay” principle: if the ticket machine is out of order then car parking should be free that day. (Currently customers are given a penalty even if they were unable to pay because of the fault of the operator.)
Southeastern’s system of appeals against car parking penalties is unjust: the liability to pay continues despite an appeal, paying the penalty removes the right to appeal, and the appeal service is not independent. So:
- Payment of a penalty should be suspended from the time an appeal is submitted to the time that it is resolved.
- Payment of a penalty should still allow an appeal to be made, and previous payment should not affect the outcome.
- The appeal service should be independent of the franchisee, the car park sub-contractor and the rail industry.
- What more could be done to improve access and provide facilities for those with disabilities or additional needs?
Smaller stations in the Sevenoaks area (Dunton Green, Bat & Ball, Shoreham and Eynsford) have only one accessible platform and the other platform can only be reached via a footbridge with stairs. Each of these stations should be made fully accessible. In each case there is unused land at the side of the inaccessible platform that could be used to construct a ramp to the public road.
While Southeastern have recently reduced the required notice for assisted travel from 24 hours to 12 hours they still recommend 24 hours notice. However this still disadvantages people with disabilities. The new franchisee should immediately offer a ‘turn up and go’ assisted travel service at all staffed station and at all station served by trains with on-board supervisors. In the longer term the re-introduction of staffing at all stations would allow this service to be extended, as well as the other advantages of station staffing including a reduction in fare evasion and customer safety and security.
What do you think? Please let us have your comments and suggestions here.