I get into work in one of two ways, either on my bicycle or on the train. The routes that I use come up through North Kent, through South East London and then into Charing Cross or Cannon Street. Over the Christmas period the service was nothing short of awful. I appreciate that the heavy snow made things difficult but a cursory look at the internet will show you a host of people who feel hugely disappointed and let down by the company, a situation not helped by the company only scraping in above their compensation target by running a skeleton service over those snowy days.
The relationship between London Government and the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) is an awkward one. We need to work with them to ensure integration into the TFL system and ensure that things like the roll out of Oyster Cards on the rail system works, however we have no formal control over them and little formal way to hold them to account.
Yesterday at Mayor’s Questions the Lib Dems tried to make some political capital from the widespread disappointment felt by may commuters by attacking the Mayor about the TOCs performance, they know full well that the Mayor cannot control the actions of the TOCs any more than they can. I have written to SouthEastern Trains, both in terms of their general performance and about specific issues on behalf of constituents who have contacted me, but without a formal remit over surface rail provision there isn’t very much more that I, as an Assembly Member, can do.
I think that there are two things which should be changed to give London politicians more power to hold the TOCs to account. The first is to give the Transport Committee of the London Assembly the power to call the TOCs in for questioning, at the moment we can invite them but cannot compel them to attend. Being able to make them attend will enable us to put them under the same level of scrutiny that TFL currently enjoy.
The second change would be for the Mayor and Assembly to have a significant say in the awarding of the franchises for the suburban commuter routes which mainly serve Londoners. While having an informal relationship with the TOCs can bring about improvements, the Oysterisation of the surface train stations for example, it is not the same as having some real leverage in the relationship.
Londoners feel let down by the TOCs and my constituents feel particularly angry at SouthEastern, and I’d like to be able to do something about that.