Increasing Southern rail fares would be '˜untenable' - MP

Plans to increase rail fares on Southern services next year would be '˜untenable', according to East Worthing and Shoreham's MP.

East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton during a Westminster Hall debate on the performance of Govia Thameslink Railway (photo from SUS-160714-112538001
East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton during a Westminster Hall debate on the performance of Govia Thameslink Railway (photo from SUS-160714-112538001

Tim Loughton has written to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling calling for a freeze on Govia Thameslink Railway train fares ‘at least until they start to run a proper service’.

He has also suggested a discount for season ticket holders when they renew them given the recent ‘appalling’ service.

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Mr Loughton said on Twitter: “I presume a fare increase for GTR means the Department for Transport benefits from the extra revenue – completely untenable in current chaos.”

In his letter he wrote: “Following today’s announcement that ticket prices are set to increase for embattled and long-suffering Southern passengers, many of whom live and commute from my constituency, I am writing to urge the department makes special provision to freeze fares at the very least.

“The situation is appalling for passengers and they today read that they will be being paying more for their journeys.

“Any increase at this time would be adding insult to injury. Consequently, I ask that ticket prices for GTR customers be frozen at least until normal service resumes.”

Passengers have suffered months of disruption due to staff shortages since a dispute began between the RMT union and GTR over plans to change the role of conductors on Southern services.

The union has held four separate walkouts between April and August, but last week called off a planned week-long strike after three days to allow negotiations to resume, but these talks ended on Monday (August 15) without an agrement in place.

The rail operator said it would forge ahead with its ‘modernisation plans’.

But today (Tuesday August 16) the RMT announced that its members had backed industrial action over GTR’s plans to cut ticket office opening hours at many Sussex stations to weekday peak times only and have ‘station hosts’ selling tickets on concourses instead.

Lancing’s ticket office is set to close completely, although Shoreham’s was given a reprieve earlier this summer, and along with Angmering, Barnham, and Littlehampton will be open from 7-10am.

Worthing’s ticket office is set to be open from 7.30-10.30am.

The concept is due to be ‘soft launched’ at a small number of stations towards the end of the summer before being rolled across all the affected locations.

According to the RMT, the proposals will have a ‘devastating impact on both staff and the safety and services offered to the travelling public’, while the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) is also balloting its members on possible strike action over the cuts.

Of the RMT members who responded more than two thirds voted in favour of strike action, while almost 80 per cent voted in favour of industrial action short of a strike.

The result will now be considered by the union’s executive committee.

RMT assistant general secretary Steve Hedley said: “The Govia Thamelink franchise is in meltdown and not fit for purpose. Not content with axing catering services, closing ticket offices and attacking the role of their guards they now want to threaten 130 station jobs and compromise the safety of both their passengers and staff alike.”

On the changes to conductor role, the RMT said it was a ‘bitter blow’ to see its proposals rejected by GTR, but the rail operator argued that passengers would be ‘exasperated’ to see the union reject what it felt was an ‘incredibly good offer’.

The Government has faced repeated calls to strip GTR of its franchise, including from the Herald & Gazette, as passengers have faced months of disruption with staff shortages causing constant delays.

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