Dear Cllr Brazier
We write on behalf of Sevenoaks Rail Travel Association. The Sevenoaks Chronicle says that KCC is employing consultants to assess the proposal by the Mayor of London for TfL to take responsibility for metro rail services to Dunton Green and Dartford from the Department for Transport. I understand you are looking for answers in a few weeks, although this proposal has been known to us for over a year. We have had a series of discussions with TfL and others about it, and will be happy to pass the results to the consultants.
Although initially sceptical, SRTA is now convinced that the Mayor’s proposal makes sense, not just for Sevenoaks and Dartford but for the whole of Kent and South East London. The current system gives us – and KCC – few levers through which we can influence rail services. It has served commuters of West Kent, who pay most of the fares in Kent, very badly. We now have some of the highest fares in the country, but our trains are slower than they were fifteen years ago, and services cannot evolve to meet the shifting geography of jobs in London on which we depend.
If your consultants are looking at West Kent in the context of their work, they need to give you answers to the following questions, especially if they recommend that you refuse the Mayor’s offer to improve our services. They are hard economic questions, on which TfL have given us good and logical answers
Unless the South Eastern franchise is split between metro and longer distance services, and without a larger role for TfL in the metro part of it:
- how does KCC expect Kent commuters to be taken off the “fare escalator” which has driven rail travel costs across the whole of Kent up faster than almost anywhere else in the country, by forcing long distance fares to make up for balance of ‘RPI+x’ rises as London fares are capped by the Mayor? The Mayor’s proposal will do this by separating the operations
- how does KCC intend to achieve improved performance in the reliability of longer distance services into London, or even to give operators a clear operational incentive to improve timekeeping? The Mayors proposal will do this by using incentives already tried and tested in London on the metro part of the service where most delays happen
- how does KCC expect the franchisee to reduce fare evasion for stations running into London to the level already achieved by TfL, which will provide the additional revenue for improved services and more manned stations? The Mayors proposal will do this by matching performance already achieved on metro services
- can KCC suggest ways in which the franchising cost for at least part of Kent rail services can be reduced by removing the ‘fare box risk’ for the franchisee, and providing additional savings which can be ploughed into better services? The Mayor’s proposal will do this by using franchise models which have been proved to achieve this in London
- can KCC suggest how Oyster can be made available to Kent commuters, which will save both time and money for those who don’t commute frequently enough to merit a season ticket, as well as helping to reduce fare evasion? The Mayor’s proposal will do this quickly and easily by extending existing systems.
- can KCC show how operation of the existing franchise system, without involving TfL, can ever develop improved capacity in London to enable West Kent commuters, who pay most of the fares in the county, to get to the growing financial centres in east London without going through London Bridge? Only collaboration with the Mayor is likely to deliver this.
This last point is probably the most important for us in Sevenoaks. While services from East Kent have had major investment, we have little to show for years of fare rises which were justified by ‘investment in ‘Kent rail capacity’ which brought us no benefit. Most of the changes needed to improve our access to London are changes in London itself, which only TfL can push for. That is why partnership between KCC and TfL is vital.
The Mayor’s proposal is a good start. Please accept it.
We have heard claims from various councillors that the change would enable the Mayor to grab paths currently used for mainline services for metro trains. You need to know that this is not in his power, but the Secretary of State’s. The claim is a myth. The Mayor has given us a signed undertaking that he has no intention of disadvantaging Kent commuters. We trust you have asked for the same undertaking.
Tony Clayton Chairman
Roger Johnson Vice Chairman