Jo deBank, Communications Officer at passenger watchdog London TravelWatch, expresses concern that proposals for the London Assembly to abolish the body and take over its functions could leave passengers without effective representation.
Transport is absolutely central to Londoners, as well as to millions who commute in and out of the city every day and the millions who visit every year.
London’s travelling public deserve an independent voice, and fare-payers need a proper, impartial appeals body to resolve difficult and complex complaints.
Earlier this year, the London Assembly (which provides our funding) undertook a Review into London TravelWatch, which was published this week. This proposes the break-up of London TravelWatch, bringing an end to sixty years of independent passenger representation in London.
The Review proposes that the London Assembly should take over the functions and duties of London TravelWatch but that the functions in relation to rail passengers should be taken over by the national rail body, Passenger Focus.
We were deeply shocked by the Review for several reasons:
Firstly, London is particular and unique, transport-wise, and needs a multi-modal, integrated watchdog. Having one body look at rail issues and another one looking at tube, bus, river, streets and roads makes no sense whatsoever.
Londoners all use more than one form of transport, and the vast majority of people use integrated ticketing: Travelcards or Oyster cards. It is seems strange that at a time when the Mayor is increasingly influential in shaping rail policy, and is endeavouring to assume greater powers (a move London TravelWatch supports) over rail in the capital, that the Assembly envisages two separate passenger bodies.
Problems with Oyster cards, including fare inconsistencies, overcharging, availability and interchange problems make up around 60% of our rail complaints: separating into two bodies makes no sense.
Secondly, we believe that London’s passenger voice needs to be informed about the issues the travelling public face, as well as the wider transport industry. As the appeals body, which exists for passengers to come to if they are unhappy with their initial complaint to the transport body, we need to be able to deal with the complicated and harder to resolve issues: this requires specialist and informed transport expertise. This knowledge ensures that we can work diligently behind the scenes to identify and resolve potential problems for passengers before they occur – we complain, before passengers have to.
As well as dealing with individual complaints, we, as a statutory watchdog, speak up for the travelling public when services are planned, routes are considered, vehicles are designed and decisions are made. This can include anything from transport planning, looking at proposed timetables, examining bus routes, ensuring vehicles and stations are accessible as possible, investigating proposed closures and disruption to fighting so that passengers can buy a full range of tickets without difficulty and easily find information on buying the best – and often cheapest – ticket. We are worried that much of this work simply will not get done without an expert passenger body in the capital.
Thirdly, we believe that today’s passengers owe a great deal to the work of London TravelWatch and its forerunners speaking up on behalf of passengers and that an independent, non-party political voice for the passenger is crucial. London has had independent representation for many, many years and this is an important contributory factor as to why we Londoners enjoy better transport than other cities.
Many of the things we take for granted travelling around London are in existence owing to pressure, persuasion and campaigns by London TravelWatch and its predecessors. We speak solely for passengers and look at transport issues as a whole without being unduly influenced by local residents and local businesses. We think this is vital for effective passenger representation.
Fourth, we question the London Assembly’s assumptions about cost savings. It is far from clear that they can be achieved as set out in the Review. By working more efficiently, we believe we can make the savings required ourselves, thus removing the financial case for abolishing the only London-wide passenger body.