At least two groups are publicly campaigning for improvements to the rail services in Sussex. Sussex Rail Action and Save Our Service are both striving to get Southern to improve the timetabling and commuter services currently provided.
Save Our Service is an initiative run by The Argus newspaper that openly requests Southern to provide a better service. It says it is responding to “stories of your delayed journeys, missed meetings and the extra hours added to your commute.”
Sussex Rail Action is an independent campaign group launched and composed of “regular, frustrated passengers.” Their aims include 95% of trains on time, frequent and fast trains at peak times and below inflation price rises until 2011.
In response to the growing pressure to pick up their act Southern have admitted that “recent train punctuality has not been as good as it should be,” while speaking of the timetable MP Norman Baker said “It is now totally unfit for purpose.”
These words echo the sentiments of some Sussex students, though the tone is often a little bluer. Southern provides the service from Falmer to Brighton stations, both of which are frequently packed with students. One student said that the rail situation was “ridiculous.”
Alix Boyle, first year student of Human Sciences, said that both the trains and Falmer station were “plagued” with ticket inspectors, whom she believes deliberately “target” areas where they know students will be, in a “despicable” bid to fine as many students as possible. Alix went on to say that it was both “unfair” and “prejudicial” to target students in such a way and that it had a negative impact on her journeys; “I hate taking the train because I’m treated like a criminal every time I do. Better to take the Big Lemon bus.”
There has also been discontent among students of reams of unfair fines. Service operation rules allow Southern to charge £20 or double the fair to the nearest station, which ever is more expensive, when passengers fail to show a valid ticket for their journey. Some students allege that the ticket machine on platform one, where trains going to Brighton stop, says and has said for months now that it accepts cards or “exact change only” and that as they have not had either they have boarded the train anyway, intending to pay at the end of their journey. When getting off at Brighton they have been met with fines, with rail staff saying that the ticket machine “works fine.”
Much speculation abounds about the state of Britain’s rail service as a whole, with a comparative study recently revealing it to be Europe’s most expensive service.
However, students and action groups will no doubt be pleased at last week’s announcement that train fares are to fall next year in an attempt to aid commuters and frequent rail users during the recession. Rail fares are currently linked to the Retail Price Index (RPI) and economists have predicted that the RPI will fall into the negative this summer, resulting in a decrease in fares of around 1-2%. A spokesman for the department of transport said that “If RPI falls then the government intends to allow regulated train fares to fall in tandem, rather than freeze prices to benefit the train operating companies.”
The Liberal Democrat spokesman for transport, Norman Baker MP, has stated that Southern is not the only group indicted by the lax service currently given. He said the government too is to blame, that they were told by the government to operate a timetable that was too tight. He has called for “an entire re-write of the timetable, which has been largely in place since the 1960s.”
The Argus is encouraging contribution to their campaign and has set up many options allowing you to be a part of Save Our Service including text (text SUPIC + Your message to 80360), email and twitter. Please visit www.theargus.co.uk for more details.