I remember some years ago a TV documentary called ‘why do people hate Ryanair’. I found it so influential that I never flew with them afterwards.
What particularly struck me was the way they hid the free or cheap options on their website. It was as if this had confirmed what was otherwise an uneasy sense that the company regarded their customers with some contempt.
So I have been wondering why people hate Govia, operators of Southern Rail. On the face of it, the last two years of insane disruption has not been their fault. CEO Charles Horton is a mere cipher, pushed this way and that between the demands of owners Go-ahead and the Department of Transport. The mess has been an inevitable result of a dysfunctional contract.
It is true he has not played a difficult hand that we’ll, but even so. The mess – and the new train I tried to catch today (the 1043 from Shoreham by Sea) has disappeared from the timetable after only four days – has been a result primarily of their failure to recruit enough drivers. But even that mistake derived from a contract that divides their interests from those of their passengers.
But then, like the Ryanair film, take a little look at their irritating ticket machines. They will no longer sell period returns, which is infuriating enough. But the main page only offers you tickets to London Terminals, which is £5 more expensive where I live than a ticket to London Victoria. But there is no option for that.
You can get the proper fare but only by searching for Victoria – a process that takes 15 keystrokes with dysfunctional machines and an impatient queue behind you.
I asked a technician about this earlier in the week and he said they would recommend a change to Govia. We will see what they say. As it stands, there is no bigger sign of a company exercising its rights to fleece its passengers.
That may not be a good enough reason to hate a prisoner of Chris Grayling, but it doesn’t exactly imply customer care.
Sadly, the same abuses happen in most privatised services, just as they did before they were privatised. It isn’t a question of public or private, in fact. It is a matter of big versus small – and aligning the interests of operators with customers. Otherwise the gods clash in battles above our heads, us ordinary train travellers. And it isn’t fun.
This post first appeared on The Real Press.
Help us lay the intellectual foundations for a new radical politics. Sign up to get email notifications about anything new in this blog.