Rail campaigners are calling on the Government to freeze prices for Southern season tickets next year.
The annual rail fare increases for next year is expected to be announced tomorrow (Tuesday August 16) and the Campaign for Better Transport believes that commuters should be given a break from yearly rises due to the problems on services operated by Govia Thameslink Railway.
The rail operator and the RMT union have been locked in a bitter dispute over the future role of conductors on trains, with staff shortages leading to months of misery for passengers.
James MacColl, head of campaigns at the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “In the face of continuing delays, cancellations and overcrowded trains, it would be outrageous if Southern Rail commuters’ season tickets prices were put up again.
“The Government has an opportunity to show it is listening to passengers’ demands by freezing the fares - in fact this is the least they can do.
“Passengers also expect to be properly compensated for cancelled services and we want Ministers to attend a Passenger Assembly meeting to answer directly to the people affected.”
Action For Rail is holding protests at a number of railway stations on Tuesday morning, including at Brighton, Hastings, Hove, Lewes, Moulscoomb, Portslade, Preston Park, Seaford, St. Leonards, and Worthing.
Meanwhile crunch talks between unions and rail bosses to end a dispute that has plunged Southern services into chaos for months ended today (Monday August 15) with no agreement in place.
The RMT union halted strike action mid-way through last week and returned to the table to negotiate with Govia Thameslink Railway over plans to change the role of conductors on trains.
However Acas, the mediation service, confirmed that talks have ended without an agrement being reached, and GTR said it would now forge ahead with its ‘modernisation plans’.
Angie Doll, GTR’s passenger services director, said: “We have been talking to the union for nine months now and, despite several visits to Acas, the union won’t agree a deal. “Passengers will be rightly exasperated that the RMT won’t agree to what most fair-minded people would believe is an incredibly good offer. “We are guaranteeing jobs, pay and a second person on as many trains as we do today and also offered to work with the RMT to agree modern working practices to reduce cancellations and passenger disruption.
“The RMT’s position does not help our passengers at all. We have guaranteed to have a second person on as many trains as today, but the union is rigidly refusing our offer to agree a list of exceptional circumstances when we would be able to run our trains without a second staff member on board, such as during disruption to still get people home. “
This would create the crucial flexibility we need to ensure fewer cancelled trains for our passengers.
“The RMT has repeatedly tried to play the safety card as the issue but it did not raise this issue at all during these latest talks, confirming this dispute is purely about union power and control.
“The fact is that, day in, day out for decades, up and down Britain’s railways and the Tube network, we’ve had the driver operating the doors, safely.
“This is backed up by independent research and expert opinion, including that of the Rail Safety and Standards Board.
“We will now move forward with our modernisation plans which will deliver better customer service for our passengers. Our eight-point proposal is still on the table and we urge the RMT to give this serious consideration.
“Over the coming weeks, we will be working closely with our staff as we start to implement these vital changes. After so much unnecessary industrial action, we must all get back to the job of giving our passengers the service they expect and deserve.”
But the RMT said it had tabled a ‘reasonable and practical document’ that would have set the ground for resolving all aspects of the dispute without dilution of safety standards, addressed the needs of the business, and ensured that disabled, elderly and other groups could rely on a member of staff being on board to assist and facilitate their travel.
Mick Cash, general secretary at the RMT, said: “We had a golden opportunity in these talks to make some serious progress on the core issue of a second person on the train who would have protected the safety of passengers, delivered customer service and ensured access to services for those with disabilities or needing assistance.
“It’s a bitter blow that a firm set of union proposals that could have allowed us to move forward were rejected out of hand. The matter will be discussed by the union executive this afternoon.”
Passengers have faced months of disruption on Southern services due to staff shortages, with both GTR and the RMT blaming each other for problems.
GTR is proposing to introduce driver-only operation on Southern trains, which would see drivers and not conductors operating the train doors.
The RMT has objected to the proposals on safety grounds and potential job losses.
The union has released the full set of proposals it tabled at the talks, which would have seen the creation of a ‘train services manager’ to replace conductors.
These would be responsible for customer service requirements, as well as ‘safe and efficient train operation and high levels of accessibility for all passengers on all services’.
Mr Cash said: “We are releasing the full details of our ACAS proposals so that the travelling public can see that RMT was making every possible effort to ensure a positive outcome in these talks.
“Our proposals covered all the three main areas requiring agreement to allow us to move forwards and we are bitterly disappointed that they have been rejected out of hand. We know that the public who use these services will share our anger and frustration.”
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