14 October 2014

The Questions (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second post from our hour with David Statham talking about Southeastern. This is the middle slot (we were broken up by two news/weather/travel bulletins).

For the first part click here

The rest of this post will have summaries of the questions and answers from the panel, and a bit of commentary from me (quotes used for what was actually said, you can, of course, refer to the audio link!)

I already prepared the Thank Yous at the bottom of this post, so they’ll stay for all parts of this blog.

Of course, you can listen to the whole hour again on via Soundcloud, if you can’t wait for me to type the rest up!

David and Julia Me asking a question

# Intro

Julia: Lilian Greenwood (Shadow Rail Minister) commented earlier that it was a ‘disgrace’ when talking about the extension of the franchise - you got this extension not because you were brilliant, but because it was easier. Have you earnt this extension?

David: The government had a lot of options, the fact we have this is a degree of faith from the Department of Transport in our ability to manage the really difficult works at London Bridge, and a recognition there are things we need to do to improve the railway in the next 3.5 years

# PPM

Julia: What are your targets, and crucially your punctuality target now, for the franchise

David: We’ll be more transparent about how we set out the targets we have in the franchise agreement and how we communicate this. We’ll be publishing a magazine style report, with targets across a range of measures: punctuality targets, ticket vending machines, customer correspondence. We know this is important that we’re more transparent

Julia: Phil, what measures have you gone to to find out what the targets are

Me: On the award of your franchise, Claire Perry (Rail Minister), said there would be ‘tough performance targets’, she didn’t respond as to what they were, Southeastern referred me to the DfT. I put in a Freedom of Information request in, this was received as late as possible on the 20 day limit, and the DfT have said for ‘commercial reasons’ they can’t tell me what the performance measures that you now have to work towards are. Are you able to tell me what the PPM figures are?

David: The delay in the FOI is down to the DfT as opposed to ourselves, we want to be more transparent.

Julia: You could just answer the question…

David: This week we’ll publish our customer magazine, with performance targets, and actual performance by line of route, so much more granular information as opposed to a target for Southeastern overall.

Me: The results are there, but have you made your targets available to your consumers?

David: The targets will be published in the customer report this wek

Julia: You’re not going to tell us them now?

David: I haven’t got, there a lot of targets, it’s done by line of route

Julia: You must have an overall target set by the government for punctuality

David: We’re three different sets of performance targets for the govt: seat capacity, delay minutes (in terms of those we cause for ourselves), and cancellations. There are targets within the franchise to deliver those. The new agreement also includes customer satisfaction and how customers feel…

Me: Those soft targets are all well and good, but the PPM figures, which for your last 6 years, compared to the original franchise document, you have failed to meet. So, do you have the moving average PPM target for the next year? Do you know what it is? Simple question…

David: What I know at the moment is that we are around 3.2% down year on year in terms of our PPM figure. We’re just over 1% below the target we set ourselves with Network Rail through the performance planning process. The performance planning that we do with the DfT in the franchise agreement is slightly different, it’s not based around PPM, it’s based around measures that we control ourselves: based around cancellations, number of seats provided to plan, and delay minutes. There are quite a range of different targets and we’re keen we set out a much more granular level which is why we’re publishing the customer report

Julia: Christopher, you wanted to come in this issue

My thoughts: At this point I realised I saw a table from the new customer magazine (luckily Peter tweeted it on my commute in), that looked like past performance figures. It dawned on me that the table could actually be the PPM targets, so I quickly referred to the PDF I saved to my phone for what those were. Luckily Christopher took the mic for a bit…

Christopher: Rail Futures monitor this across the country, and it’s interesting this time the southeastern franchise agreement hasn’t been published in the public arena (Julia: yes we’ve not managed to get it…). It is a passenger focussed document and they are held to account, users like ourselves do monitor this. We expect Southeastern to meet the agreements, they don’t always, there are plenty of other things that weren’t met. We’ll hold them to account when we see what is in this one, we understand there is commercial confidentiality on parts of it to redact, but we expected this in the public arena by now. This is delayed.

Julia: I’m still slightly confused, David, about whether or not you have been set a punctuality target, an overall one that we’ve had in the past. Even if you can’t tell us today, have you been set an overall punctuality target for the new franchise for the next 4 years? Even just for the year ahead by the DfT?

David: So, just to be clear, there are two different types of target we set ourselves - an industry target based on PPM (via a big planning process with Network Rail to look at what we can deliver against the PPM figures). We’re going to be much more transparent about those targets that we set…

Julia: Is that a no? I’m going to have to be really clear about this: have you been set a punctuality target by the DfT?

David: So, the punctuality targets that are within our franchise agreement, like most franchise agreements across the country, are based on a slightly different set of measures, they are based around delay minutes, delay minutes we cause ourselves, cancellations on the network, and capacity we provide. There’s a slightly different set of measures in the franchise agreement that we’re held to account by the DfT, and the industry PPM figures. We will be transparent about those PPM targets, more transparent around our achievements of those by line of route, which haven’t been over the past 7 years. There’s more information gonna come out in the public domain.

Julia: Phil, come back on that one

Me: I’ve just found the document that you’re talking about that was published today. For the Dartford routes on average we’re now looking at an expected target of around 87% (David: mm-hmm), which given the last year’s actual figures were 89%, that’s not tough at all? That’s actually worse off for Dartford commuters, and trying to do quick maths on average this (the whole set of routes) it is less than the 93.4% that you ended the last franchise with. So how did you manage to get not ‘tough performance targets’, but weaker performance targets?

David: There is some real challenges for us over the next ‘3 years’ when running the railway, these targets are in relation to the rebuilding of London Bridge. There is a massive amount of work going on to rebuild the station and the lines, which will cause challenges operationally, and with capacity. It’s important to plan realistically to set targets around that

My thoughts: David was very evasive throughout this section. He didn’t want to say what the average network PPM target was, not even for the year ahead. He also went on about PPM by line of route, with a document pushed on the site at some point within the 24 hours before our chat. I was lucky to have been able to have stored that on my phone and quickly referred to it.

Using London Bridge as an example is actually very lame. Southeastern have a timetable prepared to mitigate against the expected problems at London Bridge. Having targets based on that is merely double counting, an exercise that Southeastern have been doing for years, for example by adding extra minutes on to cover against delays.

Yes there are other targets, that wasn’t my question, I care about my train being on time, not the softer targets.

I’m still waiting for feedback on my request for how many customer letters and web forms get completed within 10 days, after they refused to tell me this.

This isn’t transparency at all. This isn’t in the customer magazine. David used the word ‘transparent’ so many times, to hopefully fool the listener into thinking he was being transparent, whilst in reality he had all his guards up and was telling us nothing.

I have some thoughts on the PPM figures which I’ll post in a later blog post

# Fares

Julia: OK, let’s move on from punctuality for a moment…onto price, let’s be honest, value for money is what people feel strongly about. Our survey found that less than a third found Southeastern value for money. For season ticket holders this drops to 22%. This is on twitter: Carol from Kingsgate, my son and daughter-in-law travel from Bromley South to Broadstairs, had to change at Ashford due to works. They paid £57 one way, and describes the price as absolutely disgusting. The four of them went to Victoria for £70 return. Carol isn’t happy. This is a one-off fare, £57 one way, that’s a lot of money isn’t it?

David: There’s a lot we can do to provide value for money for passengers, particularly those using it for leisure. We want to support the local economy in Kent over the next 3.5 years and get people using trains. As part of the new franchise agreement from January onwards we’ll have a greater range of fares and super off-peak fares that allow passengers to get really significant discounts. For example a journey from Margate to London, that’s just over £33, the new fares will bring this down to £22 through super off-peak fares. We’ll also introduce internet only tickets with significant discounts. In the run up to Christmas further discounts to encourage people to come into London by train

Julia: The more different ticket prices you offer, the more confusing it is for passengers. They just want to be able to get where they want to go, and at the cheapest price.

David: I think it’s always a challenge with setting fares, people want choice, and to choose to fix their journeys to something that suits them and when they want to travel but people also want a simple ticket offer. What we’re doing in January is expanding the existing range of tickets to more places across the network, rather than introducing a wide range of new ticket fares, but we will over the course of the next few years give off-peak users better value for money.

Julia: (24:46) (Pre-recorded question) Gordon commutes from Deal but lives in Walmer. Question: High Speed is punctual, clean, but expensive at £600 a month. But I need to earn £1000 to pay that. Price is ridiculous, a lot of people have to travel into London, but the service is good, punctual and clean.

To ask again - why is HS1 so expensive?

David: Good to hear Gordon noticing some of the good services we offer, it has some of the highest satisfaction levels across the country (in terms of the HS services). We do know value for money for season ticket holders is a particular issue and a real challenge to address, the fares are regulated and set by the DfT, the one bit of good news is we won’t see the above inflation increases that commuters have seen over the past few years. They’ve seen rises above 1-3% above inflation.

Julia: With Flex in the past (before you joined) sometimes significantly more than that?

David: This year the govt have announced fares will pegged to inflation (regulated fares the govt is responsible for), and secondly operators can’t Flex the fares - which we use to fix anomalies in the system to make sure everybody has a fair deal.

Julia: But going up by 6% isn’t very fair if you commute from Ramsgate - if it goes up by 6% you’re not particularly interested in the price of the person commuting from Canterbury West or wherever.

David: I understand, the good news for commuters this year is fares are pegged to the level of inflation and the opportunity to flex fares across the system won’t be happening this coming January

My thoughts: A very well rehearsed response: He managed to tow the Govt line that fares are going up at the rate of inflation, and that flex won’t apply for THIS year. Very well worded, very well rehearsed, giving no commitment to what will happen in the future under the current regime.

John: (commuter) I don’t think there should be any rise at all this year given the performance we’ve had in the last 18 months

Julia: Are you allowed to freeze your prices? The govt sets the rate of increase, can you decide that this year you’ll cut the customers some slack, would you be allowed to?

David: Every agreement we’ve made with the DfT (it’s taken 20 months to get to the agreement) has been based on the assumption of inflation of inflation-plus fare rises

Julia: That’s what I mean by consequences, but whenever we talk to rail companies (always southeastern in Kent) we’re always told that’s what the government have set. Are you obligated to increase the rail fares by the maximum (RPI+1% or RPI+0%) - do you even know? are you allowed to say +1% or freeze them? Would you be allowed to?

David: In terms of the obligation, it’s not a direct instruction, but every assumption we want to do for passengers, more staffing, more information, upgrading the trains, is based around the assumption we bring in money from ticket fares.

Julia: John, you know if passengers don’t pay, the taxpayer does, which is fairer? Passengers or the tax payer?

John: Too much emphasis on fares paid by the commuters, we can fleece the commuters, but everyone else is another story. That’s the impression I get from Southeastern trains

David: I think John makes a really good point, for the first time ever that Passenger Focus have been looking at this, the commuter/passenger pays more of the cost of running the railway than the tax payer, so we’ll use the next 3.5 years to address the things important to passengers.

My thoughts

I want to write a summary blog on this meeting, there’s a lot of things I want to say - that will be posted within the coming week.

I just wanted to highlight a few things from listening to the recording, David Statham says ‘sort of’, and ‘transparent’(and variations) a lot. I think ‘sort of’ increased throughout the morning, which shows a level of nervousness. Using ‘transparent’ a lot, to me, makes me feel that he’s not being transparent at all, and using that buzzword to convince the listener that he is being transparent. Looking at the answers he gave so far, he has been far from transparent, and more evasive.

I’m sure there’s a psychology person out there who could examine that in far better detail than my last paragraph!

Thank yous

Thank you for BBC Radio Kent, and Southeastern, for hosting the session at Charing Cross Station. I hope that the listeners and commuters got something out of it.

And Dartford Living’s Editor for putting me forward for this (as well as Councillor Jonathon Hawkes who mailed me about it a few days after!)

Oh, and Peter Mount, who has an amazing amount of stats at uktra.in - was very useful for me to get stats together for one of my questions

Next part…

That’s part two done. I knew it’d be long, but didn’t expect this much typing (lucky I can vaguely touch type), and I didn’t get time to write about PPM in the detail I wanted to - that’ll be in the summary blog post. This section was 17 minutes long, there’s 11 more minutes to go, but…I need my rest. So more later in the week!

Part three is here!



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Southeastern Railway Action Group
Dartford Rail Travellers' Association
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Dartford Rail Travellers Association (Twitter)