Train passengers shared their frustrations with Southern bosses at a public meeting in Hove organised by the town’s MP Peter Kyle.
They spoke about safety fears, lost earnings because they were late for work, paying out extra bus and taxi fares, being given warnings for arriving late for work, having no social life and in one case of missing an exam.
For our report of what Govia boss Dyan Crowther said at the meeting held at All Saints Church in Hove this afternoon (Saturday 2 July), click here.
One woman said: “There’s a lot of anger in the room. People are now becoming afraid to travel with you. I see people being at risk physically.”
She said that she had to help someone home from Victoria who was autistic and had a series of medical appointments and needed her medication. The woman became terrified, she said.
Another passenger spoke of being on a rail replacement bus when he was catapulted down a stairwell, suffered a head injury and had to be taken to hospital.
Others were missing work because of train cancellations.
A mother said: “My son missed an exam because of cancelled trains.”
Dyan Crowther apologised for the continuing problems being experienced by passengers. She said that the issue in dispute – changing the role of the guard or conductor to one of on-board supervisor – arose because new trains allowed for driver-only operation.
The RMT union said that the proposed change – due to take effect from Monday 22 August – was unsafe.
Dyan Crowther said that it was safe and that other trains on the network already had driver-only operation. She added: “We are changing their (guards’) roles slightly so the drivers shut the doors, with the introduction of new rolling stock.”
But one passenger said: “If it’s such a small change, why force it through at your customers’ expense and inconvenience?”
One woman spoke of her anxiety about travelling home late in the evening when it could hard to find a guard or conductor.
Recently she had been unable to find help when young men were urinating in her carriage on a train home late at night.
A self-employed commuter said: “If I’m late, I either have to work late or I don’t get paid.
“The 1817 to Littlehampton every evening is cancelled. I’ve got no social life any more.”
She said that she couldn’t rely on getting home in time to go out, adding: “If I go out in London I’m always thinking, ‘how do I get home?’”
She said that the service was shoddy with overcrowding, exacerbated when trains were made up eight carriages instead of twelve.
“I’ve been commuting for 11 years,” she said. “The last couple of years have just been appalling.”
And a man said that he paid £4,428 for his season ticket. He said: “I’ve had theatre tickets I’ve had to give up. I’ve given up on a social life during the week.
“If it doesn’t improve, when are they going to employ someone who’s going to do it better?”
Peter Kyle repeated a question that he has asked he Rail Minister Claire Perry in the House of Commons: “When is it going to improve?”
Dyan Crowther said: “Do I get it? Yes I do. I don’t hide in my office in London. I get out on the stations. I know it’s brutal. You have to trust us that we’re doing the right thing.”
But a member of the audience said: “You’ve ruined lives!”
Dyan Crowther said: “I know we’ve ruined lives. We’re in the middle of a multimillion-pound improvement programme.”
Things would get better, she said.
Another commuter said: “It’s not good enough. I work in child protection but I’m struggling to be able to do my job properly.
“I understand there are bigger plans but you need to do something in the short term to improve this.”
And another commuter added: “People say you get the mark of a company by the way it treats its staff and you treat your staff appallingly.”
One audience member added: “The only way you make a profit is by sweating your assets and cutting down on terms and conditions for your staff – and that’s making life worse for your passengers.”
And another regular passenger said: “Your employees have very low morale.” He spoke about their poor body language and defeated looks.
A senior transport manager who works in finance for Transport for London said that his organisation was responsible for more than 13 million journeys a day.
“If there are problems we communicate with our passengers,” he said. “You don’t.”
Peter Kyle spoke about people being turned off trains at Haywards Heath, not knowing how they would get home.
And in a more light-hearted moment he mimed turning away and hiding his face as he described the situation on a train that was overcrowded after earlier cancellations. He said: “Someone I was pressed up against said, this is ridiculous. I’m going to write to my MP.”
But , while thanking Dyan Crowther, the chief operating officer of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), and her colleagues for listening and responding, he also promised to keep speaking up for passengers.