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Author Topic: A rail ombudsman - suggested role manifesto  (Read 1962 times)
grahame
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« on: August 06, 2017, 07:45:24 PM »

Quoting from Paul Davis on Facebook to the ABC (Association of British Commuters) group. Paul - thank you for your permission to quote you here. The group is one that you need to register and be approved to join (very much as we filter here for spam signups!) - if members are interested, I believe that https://www.facebook.com/groups/1208771822490198/ will take you to them.

Paul writes:

The idea of an ombudsman for rail users is sensible - but if it works like the current ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor, it will be just another fig leaf. I seriously suggest that we should have an election for the role - and all passengers would be eligible to vote and only people with no connection to the Civil Service, the Cabinet Office or to TOCs would be eligible to stand. We won't allow the rail industry to fund it, but we would abolish the DfT poodle, Transport Focus, which is supposed to be independent and isn't, to pay for the secretariat. We should have a manifesto, too - suggestions below for its points that should be discussed and added to. Should the ombudsman be responsible to the Transport Select Committee or to a not-for-profit like ABC?

Anyway - some suggestions or a starter for 10.

Rail Ombudsman Role Manifesto

1. All deliberations will be conducted under strict liability rules, as now with penalty fares, but with the strict liability reversed so the DfT and TOCs will have to prove that they are not at fault, with the passengers’ complaint upheld otherwise

2. All upheld complaints will be compensated with a straight refund of the fare and a penalty of £50 to be paid to the complainant

3. All fares quoted by TOCs must be the lowest fare for that journey under the circumstances specified by the passenger, including any fares which would be lower if bought in separate segments

4. All ticket machines must offer the lowest possible fare too

5. All disabled passengers must have the right to turn up and travel, and be assisted so that they do not suffer discrimination because of their disability

6. All penalty fares appeals rejected by the scam IPFAS to be reviewed by a properly independent body, not one that calls itself independent and is in fact a machine for making money for the execs of Govia

7. All timetables to be re-assessed to ensure that they haven’t been padded to allow the TOC to make up time. And lateness to be determined not only at the final station but at intermediate stations

8. All repayments for lateness and cancellations to be made within 7 days of the request and a penalty of £50 to be levied if not

9. All employees of TOCs, which are corporations operating in the public sector very much like the BBC, and of the DfT, and all their contractors, with salaries or remuneration over £150k pa, to be named and the total remuneration of each declared – and the gender of each specified

10. The maximum number of passengers allowed on a train or in a carriage to be declared and this to be monitored so it is not exceeded, and if anyone has to travel in an over-crowded train where it hasn't been monitored to be compensated as in para 2

11. Once signed all contracts between TOCs and the DfT to be published in full, with the schedules and any extra elements, including the commercial terms which should be in the public arena, and details of the termination penalties

12. All meetings between the TOCs, Rail Delivery Group, Unions and the DfT to be fully minuted and the minutes published within 7 days of the meeting

13. All relevant statistics, about, for example, lateness, penalty fares, penalty fares appeals, compensation to passengers, lateness in paying will be published monthly

14. All complaints about the rail service to be published on the ombudsman’s website and details of the adjudications also published, with statistics in an easily accessible form
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grahame
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« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2017, 07:49:05 PM »

There have been interesting follow ups - without asking each person for permission I can't copy them here.  My own comment (I have obtained permission from myself) was:

Quote
Interesting post, Paul Davies - but there are many devils in the detail of how you would implement some of the elements. As a manifesto it works well, but remembering that a manifesto is a set of proposals which morph into something else - hopefully not too different - when the power to implement is awarded.

Passenger Focus can be rather good where a TOC is failing to meet its franchise responsibilities, but rather less good [understatement] where it's something that should be written in somewhere but isn't - they typically won't look at exploited loopholes. Then you've got the ORR, in London you have London TravelWatch which I believe is statutory and there are TravelWatch organisation in the South West and North West too which are not statutory; these developed from the Transport Users Consultative Committees. You have ... I could go on, and pity the poor passenger or campaigner being passed from pillar to post. I run a forum ... about the franchise that runs out of Paddington, and we have a "smoke and mirrors" board especially for these frustrations. May I post your ideas (currently only on this group, which I don't think is public readable) on there - at http://www.firstgreatwestern.info/coffeeshop/index.php... - to give further inputs and thoughts from other areas?
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TaplowGreen
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« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2017, 08:53:10 PM »

He/she would certainly be busy.
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bignosemac
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« Reply #3 on: August 06, 2017, 10:57:21 PM »

And he/she needs the teeth (that Transport Focus don't have) to hold TOCs to account for the contempt they often show to their passengers. GWR being one of the worst culprits.
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pauljdavies
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« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2017, 08:26:25 AM »

Just a short explanation of one issue - the so-called Independent Penalty Fares Appeals Service (IPFAS), which is used by GWR where a passenger has been issued a penalty fare notice. The appeals service was required by Parliament to be independent and seen to be independent. It is, in fact, just a part of Govia's Southeastern. The DfT has admitted that every time a penalty fare appeal is turned down, the executives of Govia personally benefit -
 so much for the Orwellian "independence". (It isn't a problem, Nick Bisson, then Director of rail wrote, because the amounts compared withe their salaries are small - which rather misses the point about independence.) The DfT has variously falsely claimed that it is " . . an arm's length subsidiary . ." and a " . . separate business unit . ." in order to cover it up. Neither statement is true. If you have had an appeal turned down by IPFAS, please ask for it to be independently reviewed, complain to your MP for the DfT flouting Parliament's wishes, and write to GWR asking them to justify their use of IPFAS and asking them to follow Parliament's wishes. (If you are really masochistic you can ask Transport Focus to take up your case and they will give you all help short of actually doing anything. It is also called "independent", but the DfT funds it, appoints its directors and chairman, has the right to sack them, and I have emails from the DfT asking for information by the back door, which TF willingly supplied.) This whole issue is actually a real scandal and a corrupt practice, but in five years campaigning I have been able to make no progress. Be also aware that Govia has introduced a new scam - that GWR might well try. If a passenger can be issued with a Penalty Fare, but can't pay immediately, a Penalty Fare Enforcement Notice (PEN) should be issued - and you can pay the penalty fare of £20 plus the original fare within 14 days. Govia has taken to not issuing the PEN, but taking the name and address and then sending a demand for £250 - " . . to cover our expenses . ." with the threat of a criminal prosecution if not paid within 21 days. The DfT has such a cosy relationship with Govia it has downright refused to do anything about this - and GWR may also benefit from this. If you are threatened with a penalty fare, make sure that you are issued with a PEN and don't accept any bullying.
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ChrisB
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« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2017, 08:37:52 AM »

I don't think there's yet any evidence to show GWR have started to do this?
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grahame
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« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2017, 10:00:50 AM »

Welcome to the forum, PaulJDavies

The rights of the railway's customers, and how they should be applied / implemented, seem to me to be very fogged with confusion.  On most journeys, nothing goes wrong.  On most of the minority where something does go wrong, we shrug our shoulders and "show understanding".  On the minority within that minority, we take up the issue with the train operator, and where that in turn doesn't lead to a satisfactory outcome, we end up in a bit of a problem with a number of bodies which are either toothless or are in the pay of one of the cry bodies about which we are raising an objection.   Train operators are aware of this, and the temptation is great to work systems in the operator's interest knowing that there's little comeback.  Some are tempted far,  far more than others, and customers often get the feeling that things are intentionally awkward for them to follow up to discourage them from doing so.

Adding yet another body (an Omburdsman) to the TOC, IPFAS, National Rail, the DfT, ORR, Travel Focus, London TravelWatch, Network Rail, RDG, Transport Select Committee ... would seem an illogical step - BUT if it can bring all the "wrongdoing of last resort" into one, authoritative, visibly independent location, it could well be a good idea.

I've not heard of IPFAS in use in GWR territory, but an Omburdsman would need to be nationwide.

I may take up - as a separate post and a little later - some of Paul's individual proposals.   With some, I suspect the devil's in the detail and implementing them cleanly could lead to a massive expense on the rail network to be born - perhaps - by the fare paying public.  But that comment's intended to say "careful what's put in / suggested - make it practical" and I would hate to throw out this baby with the bathwater.
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ChrisB
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« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2017, 10:08:13 AM »

There's an easier solution - make Transport Focus / London TravelWatch truly independent so it can have the teeth it needs. It's the easiest/smoothest solution.
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grahame
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« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2017, 11:49:06 AM »

Just a short explanation of one issue -[[ long, long snip ]] -  If you are threatened with a penalty fare, make sure that you are issued with a PEN and don't accept any bullying.

The problem being that it's so fiendishly complicated that the railway's typical innocent customer hasn't a chance against a bullying system.  The railway's career fare dodger will know all the tricks and be aware of how to lessen her or his exposure to the big penalise, and she / he is the very one they should have been designed to penalise rather than protect.

Others on this thread are (and no doubt will continue to be) very critical of GWR.  Whilst I can't deny that there's plenty to criticise, I do look at other train operator reports and they seem to be worse, and I do recall how things have gotten very much better in so many ways with First in our area (now styled GWR) since they took over where I live some 12 years ago.
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bignosemac
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« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2017, 12:55:12 PM »

I don't think there's yet any evidence to show GWR have started to do this?

GWR have been issuing 'settlement' letters, when ticketing irregularities are suspected, for many years. Their Revenue Protection Policy says they may do so. I'd expect that some who is (was?) on the Customer Panel to know this.

Penalty Fares and prosecutions under Byelaws and RoRA are areas that are tightly regulated and governed. 'Settlement' letters are not. A TOC can demand a payment to settle with the threat that, if not paid, they will prosecute. This way of penalising people, often on suspicion only, with the flimsiest of evidence, is totally unregulated.

"Pay us £xxx or we'll take you to court" is nothing short of demanding money with menaces. It is a practice that should be stopped.

And yes, I know GWR issue such demands. I've had one. It took eight weeks for GWR to confirm I had done nothing wrong. Eight weeks of hassle and threats to prosecute unless I paid £80 to make a problem of their making go away.
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ChrisB
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« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2017, 01:56:58 PM »

If you've mentioned this event previously, I'm sure I offered to take this up with GWR via the Panel in the past. You refused, without specific evidence it is extremely difficult for the Panel that was to hold GWR to account.

There were examples of other customer complaints that were dealt with by the previous Panel, very successfully. I was happy to take examples anonymsed.
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grahame
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« Reply #11 on: August 07, 2017, 04:28:59 PM »

And yes, I know GWR issue such demands. I've had one. It took eight weeks for GWR to confirm I had done nothing wrong. Eight weeks of hassle and threats to prosecute unless I paid £80 to make a problem of their making go away.

If you've mentioned this event previously, I'm sure I offered to take this up with GWR via the Panel in the past. You refused, without specific evidence it is extremely difficult for the Panel that was to hold GWR to account.

The talk of an Ombudsman is beyond taking up matters with GWR, and exchanges like this serve to demonstrate a lack of trust in a system that's not independent of the train operator.   Please let's look at the that final safety net in this thread and take such exchanges as these as pointer to say we need one - even if the independent ombudsman ends up saying "actually the TOC has that right" in some cases.  At least we'll then be able to trust in the knowledge, and because the ombudsman's there, the TOCs will be careful to not transgress.
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« Reply #12 on: August 07, 2017, 05:10:56 PM »

In general, a reasonable maximum time to respond to a complaint is 8 weeks IMO. It works for the banking sector and if a customer is unsatisfied after that period of time or the firm fails to respond then the complaint can be referred to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

The current glacial timescales for responses - which are sometimes inadequate in any case, just adds another slight to the charge sheet.
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grahame
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« Reply #13 on: August 07, 2017, 05:34:36 PM »

In general, a reasonable maximum time to respond to a complaint is 8 weeks IMO. It works for the banking sector and if a customer is unsatisfied after that period of time or the firm fails to respond then the complaint can be referred to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

The current glacial timescales for responses - which are sometimes inadequate in any case, just adds another slight to the charge sheet.

I noted "7 days" in the original proposal - though on something slightly different - and felt that was a little tight.   

In my opinion, there are elements of the manifesto which are rather more draconian than I would realistically expect in a final system, and I wondered if they've been driven by an anger that's built up within the Southern area, or as negotiating positions where a compromise in the middle is what's really wanted.   Some of the elements may be rather like putting up an electric fence - very effective but scarcely used as common business practice modifies to avoid the problems - almost like engineering the railway system to become more used friendly via the thread of the Ombusman.  I also worry at the expense of some of the items (I'm starting to sound like another member here!) and fear that much of the expense might be met by raising fares and by cancelling services that are no longer profitable.   A final concern that so much extra regulation may discourage too many bidders from going for franchises.   Already there were only two on the South West ...

Anyway ... PaulJDavies started with "some suggestions / your starter", so indicates to me he's welcoming of constructive comments, and probably will be even more welcoming of discussions on individual points.
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bignosemac
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« Reply #14 on: August 07, 2017, 05:54:50 PM »

If you've mentioned this event previously, I'm sure I offered to take this up with GWR via the Panel in the past. You refused, without specific evidence it is extremely difficult for the Panel that was to hold GWR to account.

There were examples of other customer complaints that were dealt with by the previous Panel, very successfully. I was happy to take examples anonymsed.

I neither wanted, nor sought, assistance from the Customer Panel. It's as toothless as Transport Focus.

Had there been an Ombudsman with big enough boots to seriously kick butt I may have considered using them regardless of the outcome of GWR's attempt to prosecute me for trying to buy my ticket at the earliest opportunity.

« Last Edit: August 07, 2017, 06:01:35 PM by bignosemac » Logged

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