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Forum topic: Time to say "Go away, Govia"?

Time to say "Go away, Govia"?

Basil Clarke

22 Jun 2016 19:33 #2190

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Many readers will have noticed that there has been no noticeable reduction in the number of train cancellations on Great Northern.  They mostly occur at weekends (when the service is nominally only half-hourly in the first place) and during school holidays, reflecting the fact the fact that the chronic shortage of drivers continues.  Punctuality also continues to be extremely poor.

logosGovia Thameslink Railway, the company behind Great Northern, is a joint venture between the Go Ahead group and Keolis.  Its problems are by no means confined to Great Northern.  It seems that Thameslink services are equally bad, while services under the Southern branding are in disarray because of driver shortages and appalling industrial relations.  

On top of that, Govia's plans to close many ticket offices and instead use "station hosts" encountered much opposition.  Govia has now agreed to revise its proposals and to run pilot schemes;  some ticket offices will be retained and opened during the morning peak (it's unclear whether they will include Palmers Green) and there have been reassurances about the range of tickets that will be available either from station hosts or from machines at the stations.

The driver shortage can't be entirely blamed on Govia - it was inherited from First Capital Connect and there are suggestions that drivers trained at Govia's expense are being "poached" by other train operators.  However, Govia was aware of this problem when it took on the contract.  I think it is by now clear that Govia has not proved able to fulfil its contract.  Indeed, I read this week that the Department for Transport has agreed to relax some franchise agreement stipulations affecting services south of the Thames to make life easier for Govia.  (So much for the theory that privatising public services transfers the risk to the contractor - the people at risk are the travelling public and the taxpayers!)

Which makes it particulary infuriating to learn that Go Ahead's CEO, David Brown, has been awarded a pay package amounting to nearly £2.2 million.  His pay, including "salary, bonuses and incentives", reportedly increased by ten per cent.  The three worst rated rail franchises in the UK are all run by Go Ahead, whose boss is thus being paid extra money for failure.

I think it's high time that these franchises were taken out of Govia's hands and taken over by the Department for Transport, which operated the East Coast Main Line very successfully between 2009 and 2015.  As I said before, I don't think that the company is entirely to blame.  And clearly, new drivers will not materialise out of thin air and cancellations will undoubtedly be a regular feature for many months to come whoever is running the service.  But I do think it's offensive to both passengers and taxpayers that profits should be going to Go Ahead's management, board and shareholders when the company is clearly failing to run a satisfactory service.

Sources

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Time to say "Go away, Govia"?

Basil Clarke

06 Jul 2016 19:10 #2191

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The campaign to strip Govia of its rail franchises is growing in strength. A quick Google search will reveal that there are several online petitions and many reports in newspapers and on local community websites throughout their operating area.

Govia's worst problems are on its Southern services, but Palmers Green commuters will also be familiar with Great Northern's inadequacies, with cancellations on a daily basis, on Sundays sometimes outnumbering actual trains.

The government has reacted not by taking any action against Govia, but - quite the reverse - by bending over backwards to accommodate this useless company. It has given permission for Govia to cancel up to 350 trains a day on its Southern routes for the next month!

This reminds me very much of the role I had for a while as an "intelligent customer" during my civil service career. Having been appointed to the role of liaising with the firm that was providing some contracted out services, I was duly sent on a course called "Handling Contractors". I imagined that the course would instruct me how to ensure that contractors delivered the services they were being paid for. Not at all! The main focus was on how to ensure that the contractor didn't go bust or walk away from the contract, because since the department no longer had the inhouse skills needed to do the work itself, it was now dependent on the good will of the private firm. If the contractor showed any signs of not being able to do the work as specified, my job was to make adjustments to make their life easier.

However, let's not be entirely negative. If Govia can't always run trains, they have proved this week that they can paint blue and white stripes around lamp posts and pylons on stations. This is necessary in order to remove any traces of the former operator, First Capital Connect, which might remind us that the service was once not quite as bad.



The photo shows a freshly painted pylon at Palmers Green. Unfortunately for Govia, though, the train in the background still has First Capital Connect go faster stripes showing - there has clearly been an attempt to remove the FirstGroup branding, but it has only been partially successful.

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Time to say "Go away, Govia"?

Basil Clarke

13 Jul 2016 14:32 #2198

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The past week has seen further demands from MPs and others to strip Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) of its franchise. On cue, the London Reconnections website has subjected the problems besetting GTR and its long-suffering passengers to its usual thorough analysis. Though the biggest crisis at the moment affects the Southern routes, with 350 cancellations per day, the article correctly points out that driver shortages have been a continuing problem on Great Northern too.

A recurring theme in this article will be the shortage of drivers – not guards. From a passenger’s perspective, the rot started when GTR took over Great Northern and Thameslink. Not highly publicised at the time was the fact that when GTR took over from First Capital Connect they were shocked to discover on day one that they were considerably short of their expected number of drivers. In evidence to a recent Select Committee, Dyan Crowther, Govia Chief Operating Oficer, spoke of having 607 when expecting over 650.

At the time, the initial shortage of drivers was given little publicity, but more recently GTR have not been so reticent about this. It does pose a lot of awkward questions though. How was First Capital Connect allowed to get away with this? Wasn’t there a basic franchise requirement for the previous franchisee to hand over the franchise in good order? Why didn’t GTR know about the problem in advance? Did they not ask the DfT? Did the DfT themselves not know?


As this extract suggests, the authors don't place all the blame on Govia, but suggest that the previous operator, First Capital Connect, and the Department for Transport have also failed the travelling public. The authors also point out that the traditional practice of not rostering drivers for work on Sundays continues, meaning that the service is entirely reliant on drivers voluntarily working on a rest day.

My view is that regardless of how the blame is apportioned between Govia, First Capital Connect and the civil servants, the problems are just the latest symptoms of a dysfunctional approach to running rail services since the 1990s.

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Time to say "Go away, Govia"?

Andrew Nix

14 Jul 2016 08:59 #2202

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Bring back British Rail
www.bringbackbritishrail.org

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