Young professionals are harnessing the power of social media to put pressure on transport operators and policy-makers

 

Summer_DeanA demonstration by Southern passengers

 

Rail operators will have to deal in future with a new type of passenger lobby group organised by young professionals who are adept at using social media, the Campaign for Better Transport predicts.

One Facebook group launched by disaffected Southern passengers has designs on becoming a charity for rail passengers nationally. The Association of British Commuters is also exploring the possibility of using crowd-funding to take legal action where it believes passengers are not receiving a reasonable service.

Stephen Joseph, executive director of CBT, said: “My perspective is that this is a coming thing. With social media, it’s terribly easy to organise.”

He said established rail passenger groups were different. “Transport Focus and London TravelWatch are official user watchdogs. There’s a limit to how far they can properly speak up.

“There are local line rail user groups, but they tend to be quite old-fashioned. The new breed tend to use social media rather effectively.”

He said that established groups were often run by older people or rail enthusiasts and quite well associated with the industry, “which means they won’t necessarily reflect immediate problems that come up”.

He continued: “It will be something the industry has to deal with. The issue will be trying to get them [new lobby groups] to focus on how those things are run and where the politics is in them. The new breed of commuters may get Charles Horton’s address [chief executive of Govia Thameslink Railway] and sit outside his house but that’s not going to solve the problems on Southern.”

The CBT helped the Association of British Commuters (ABC) and #SouthernFail to organise a protest march for Southern passengers on August 10 from Victoria station to the Department for Transport’s offices.

Joseph acknowledged that temporary difficulties in other areas of the rail network had given rise to campaign groups which had not lasted. In 2007 and 2008 a group called More Train Less Strain protested against crowding on First Great Western trains. As of last month, the most recent addition to the website of More Train Less Strain is a comment about HS2 which was posted in October 2013.

The ABC was formed by a group of Southern passengers including Summer Dean, aged 24, a freelance film-maker and photographer, and Emily Yates, who works in journalism and public relations. Dean told Passenger Transport that the ABC was not just about organising protests. “It’s so that people feel that they’ve got a voice. It’s very easy for people to feel, ‘This terrible situation is only happening to me’.

“We’re looking at expanding it to be a forum for normal, everyday people who aren’t necessarily rail enthusiasts.” This would cover all of Britain. The ABC has already received enquiries from people outside south east England.

However, she said: “It’s really time intensive. That’s probably why groups like this are usually run by older people or enthusiasts. We’re all young professionals. We’ve got jobs and are trying to pay our rent.”

She said the ABC was considering applying for a judicial review of decisions made by the Department for Transport and Govia, with crowd-funding to help with the potential costs. “We’ve got solicitors who have said they will work pro bono, but we have to raise money to pay the other side’s costs if we lost.”

Dean, who lives in Brighton, is one of many in her generation who depend on public transport because they do not drive. “I don’t have a season ticket but I rely on the trains. It can be under-estimated how much effect trains not working properly can have on people who are self-employed. If I’m two hours late at a job, that’s two hours I’m not going to get paid for. The client will see that you weren’t here when you were meant to be here.”

Speaking in mid-August, she said the ABC had received no direct response from Southern. “We took a letter to the DfT which was addressed to Paul Maynard [the rail minister] but didn’t get anything back. It seems to be, ‘If we can sweep them under the carpet …’

“Our three-point plan is constantly adapting. We try to come up with small and reasonable asks – not demands, asks. The one ask that has been there consistently has been, ‘Can someone just listen to and respect passengers?’ It’s about staff as well, but ultimately it’s about passengers who are paying and not receiving.”

She said the ABC was there to give bus users a voice also. “It’s not called the ‘Association of British Rail Users’. It’s for people who commute.”

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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