Transport for London commissioner apologises after saying that suburban rail users ‘hate’ the service and that Southeastern is ‘like the Wild West’

 

Sir Peter Hendy (pictured) made remarks in an interview last month

 

Transport for London commissioner Peter Hendy has been accused of a “cynical attempt to drag [further] commuter rail services into TfL”, after outspoken criticism of the quality of the capital’s suburban train operations. His comments were directed particularly at Go-Ahead-owned Southeastern, which is at the foot of Transport Focus’s rail passenger satisfaction league.

In an interview last month with Management Today, Hendy said that TfL understood that many passengers have little choice but to use public transport to travel to work, and that had informed its approach to customer service.

“You can either treat them as a revenue source, mercilessly exploit them, or try to make their lives easier,” he commented.

To make his point he said TfL had moved responsibility for ticketing to the customer experience part of its organisation from finance, and this was reflected in a more enlightened approach to ticket refunds and revenue protection than pursued by franchised train operators.

“People hate the suburban rail service, they hate it. If you make a mistake on your Oyster Card on the Tube, we’ll refund it. On South West Trains, they’ll fine you. That’s a big philosophical difference,” Hendy said. “On Southeastern, the trains are like the Wild West. They are shit, awful. And then every now and then some people who look like the Gestapo get on and fine everyone they can. It doesn’t improve your day, does it?”

By contrast, Hendy said TfL’s approach was to “face our customers as a unified organisation that treats them as modern adults living in the world’s greatest city”.

The comments were condemned publicly by the RMT union which accused Hendy of “an outrageous slur” on Southeastern staff and privately by the company’s owner Go-Ahead. A letter of apology to Southeastern managing director David Statham and Go-Ahead chief executive David Brown, in which Hendy acknowledged his criticism was “excessive”, was then leaked.

“My comment is unjustified and excessive and I apologise,” Hendy wrote. “I know everyone there [at Southeastern] is doing their best to offer a good service in the context of the franchise you have and the infrastructure you operate on. If there is a context, the interview was several weeks ago during the worst of the issues at London Bridge. But that’s not an excuse. Passion is no excuse for insult.”

However, the RMT union suggested that Hendy’s comments were motivated by his desire to gain powers over Southeastern services. TfL has previously made an unsuccessful attempt to bring the company’s inner suburban routes under its control.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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