Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. With the company, not on that particular journey?
  (Mr Grant) On any journey.

  81. Are you sure? I am just speaking as an aggrieved individual. I once went on a journey to Norwich from Liverpool Street where the train was held up for just over an hour during the course of the journey. They were very good, they handed out leaflets to us on the train and if you filled them in you would get compensation. When the compensation came back it was a free ticket from Liverpool Street to Norwich. As I have only been to Norwich once by train from Liverpool Street and have no known knowledge I am going again, it seemed rather a Pyrrhic victory because I have not been able to benefit from it. It just seems to me rather unfair on passengers if they are going to get a benefit-in-kind they are never going to use.
  (Mr Grant) That is why on the franchise replacement we are saying it should be cash.

  82. Should be or will be?
  (Mr Grant) On the heads we have agreed so far it is cash.

  83. Are you anticipating that on all of the other heads they too will be cash?
  (Mr Grant) We do.

  84. That problem will be eliminated. Good. With regard to compensation are there different schemes for season ticket holders and people who do not have season tickets? Certainly it would seem to me, if press reports are accurate, certainly on the line into Essex, if you have a season ticket there is the no problem in that they are going to have the life of their season ticket extended, but if you purchase a one-off cash ticket to go up and down to London there seems to be some question mark over whether you are going to get compensation?
  (Mr Grant) The press comment has been round this particular period, period eight, where there has been considerable disruption, and in some cases season ticket holders are getting up to four weeks free travel in the future. The difficulties have been on individual tickets, where they will get a refund provided, as I said earlier, they can show proof of travel as opposed to proof of purchase.

  85. If they bought the ticket with cash—
  (Mr Grant) If they bought the ticket with cash there needs to be some evidence they made the journey, otherwise it is open to abuse.

  86. As a matter of interest, if you go from Chelmsford to Liverpool Street and you buy a ticket at the station with cash, what evidence do you have that you have made that journey because as you have to get out of both stations the machine that you walk through to get out of the platform swallows up the ticket?
  (Mr Grant) We have had a number of discussions with the Association of Train Operating Companies and the individual train operators and the sort of idea that people were talking about was a letter to say you travelled that journey.

  87. From the passenger?
  (Mr Grant) From the passenger, maybe substantiated by some other evidence.

  88. What?
  (Mr Grant) If you travel to work on that day and you used an individual ticket your employer might be able to say, "Yes, they travelled to work." What we are trying to do is trying to protect the position that this is just not open to wide scale abuse. We are trying to get the balance right between accepting that passengers will not have kept tickets but at the same time not having thousands of letters where people are claiming for journeys they did not make.

  89. I appreciate your desire not to open the floodgates to potential abuse, I just cannot see in reality how a system is going to work that will be fair to those people who have genuinely bought a ticket if they do not have a ticket. If you say, if they write a letter saying they made the journey, which you did at one point, if that became known the world and his wife could write letters. Again, logically, if an employer says, "Joe Smith turned up to work today and he lives 30 miles away and he usually comes by train", that is not definitive proof that he came by train on that day. I am just concerned that in seeking to protect the system from abuse, which is quite right, that you will penalise genuine passengers who may have used the train and will be denied compensation. It just seems slightly unsatisfactory that long before the current problems there were not some systems in place to help genuine travellers who suffered from a particularly poor service, within the definition of that poor service, because they are going to find it remarkably difficult to prove they made the journey and get the compensation, to which they are legitimately entitled.
  (Mr Grant) In the normal course of events the train operating company will insist on seeing the ticket.

  90. You cannot do that if you are travelling from certain areas where the tickets are collected by a machine before you are physically allowed to leave the platform.
  (Mr Grant) There are alternative exits where there is somebody stationed and you can walk out of the side gate. I see people using them all of the time.

  91. Let me explain something to you, about 8,000 commuters in a two hour period come from Chelmsford to Liverpool Street, plus all of the other passengers on the other platforms that use the exits, I will tell you now that there is no way that they could queue up and ask some official to allow them through those gates so they can keep their tickets, because the sheer numbers at that time of day are just not feasible to allow such a system. I do not suppose that the staff at Liverpool Street would tolerate that sort of system either.
  (Mr Grant) I suspect at the time you are talking about the majority are season tickets anyway, so we have a far smaller proportion at that time.

  92. It may be a smaller proportion but it is still people, and people who might be entitled compensation who, because of the way the regime works, are not likely to be able to get it because they cannot prove that they made the journey, through no fault of their own.
  (Mr Grant) They can keep their tickets.

  93. I have just explained to you they cannot keep their tickets if the only way they can get off the station is through a machine that swallows it up, unless we take your suggestion, which is a member of staff prepared to open the emergency gates. If you have hundreds of people for a two hour period trying to do that then I do not think it will work. It just seems rather unsatisfactory to me that there is no other way in which a system can be devised to help people who are entitled to compensation to actually receive it. Can I briefly turn to the question of prices. I notice reading the report that it seems that the number of complaints about the level of prices is relatively small compared to other complaints against the rail services. Do you think that might be because people are not prepared to complain that much because they feel totally impotent and it is going to get them nowhere, so why waste the effort? As a constituency MP with a large commuting population, particularly roundabout the turn of the year when the season ticket prices come into force, I get a substantial number of letters from irate constituents who are less than happy that even if the price has gone up by less than the rate of inflation, given the amount they are paying each year, the price seems to make a noticeable difference to them.
  (Mr Grant) One of the areas that we have asked passengers' views on, and is contained in this On Track document, is their view on prices. It is an issue as far as passengers are concerned in terms of value-for-money. I am not sure how that is reflected in the complaints side, but it was certainly highlighted in the performance figures in the 20,000 sample.

  94. I see between 1997/98 and 2001/02 the Government has a target to increase rail passenger use up by 15 per cent. Up until recently it became quite clear this target was going to be reached. Do you still think, in the light of what has happened over the last few weeks, and what, presumably, is going to continue into the new year at some point that that target will still be reached? Secondly, do you think that the 15 per cent—if you disregarded what has just happened, because obviously when the target was set nobody knew we were going to have these problems—target was a realistic target or a soft target that was fairly easily achievable?
  (Mr Grant) Pre-Hatfield there was a belief that that target would be achieved. I think post-Hatfield it is very difficult to judge today whether that target will be achieved or not. It is easy to have hindsight and say it was easy, but at the time I am sure that people thought it was a tough target and realistic. I do not have a view from when that target was set. It would have been achieved pre-Hatfield, post-Hatfield I could not say.

  Mr Burns: Thank you very much.

Mr Steinberg

  95. I did not particularly want to go down the route of compensation but it just occurred to me when you were talking to Mr Burns that you said the tickets could be retained and he was trying to say they could not be. It occurred to me why could they not issue a chit saying "this train is one hour late" signed by the guard?
  (Mr Grant) I think for the practical reasons of how many people there would be on the trains.

  96. Sorry?
  (Mr Grant) For the practical reason in Mr Burns' example of how many people would be on the train, for the guard to actually issue that document would be quite time consuming.

  97. Would it? I would like to ask a few questions about the forthcoming new franchises, which is pretty important. From reading the report I got the impression that the present franchises were very, very lax and the targets were very easy to achieve, they did not seem to stretch the holders to provide better services. In the franchises there also appeared to be lots of loopholes which actually allowed the franchise holders to basically get away with murder, if you like, to achieve very, very simple targets, to under-perform and yet still profit. How are you going to change these franchises when you issue new ones? How are you going to make it more difficult for them to achieve their targets? How are you going to give them tougher benchmarks and targets to reach?
  (Mr Grant) I will give you a brief answer and then Mr Jenner can go into a bit more detail. The existing franchises were broadly based on the level and quality of services that were provided at the end of BR and the time of franchising. The contractual obligations in respect of frequency and standards and punctuality depended really on the service at that particular time, so they did vary across the piece. Fares were regulated and, again, that was carried forward in franchise replacement. Passenger growth has exceeded expectations. Going forward we will be setting tougher benchmarks and we will be looking for continued improvement. There will be review periods. We are looking for changes over the life of the franchise year on year and they are contained in the new franchises going forward.

  98. It is okay saying that but you have not told me—
  (Mr Grant) If Mr Jenner can go into the details.
  (Mr Jenner) Would you like to finish?

  99. No, go on.
  (Mr Jenner) The performance target will be substantially different.

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