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Do people really still hate Govia Thameslink?

May 24, 2018

David Boyle writes:

I remember some years ago a TV documentary called ‘why do people hate Ryanair?’ I found it so influential that I never flew with them again.

What particularly struck me was the way they hid the free or cheap options on their website. It was as if this had confirmed what was otherwise an uneasy sense that the company regarded their customers with some contempt.

So I have been wondering why people hate Govia, operators of Southern Rail. On the face of it, the last two years of insane disruption has not been their fault. CEO Charles Horton is a mere cipher, pushed this way and that between the demands of owners Go-ahead and the Department of Transport. The mess has been an inevitable result of a dysfunctional contract.

It is true he has not played a difficult hand that well, but even so. The mess – and the new train I tried to catch today (the 10.43 from Shoreham-by-Sea) has disappeared from the timetable after only four days – has been a result primarily of their failure to recruit enough drivers. But even that mistake derived from a contract that divides their interests from those of their passengers.

But then take a little look at their irritating ticket machines. They will no longer sell period returns, which is infuriating enough. But the main page only offers you tickets to London Terminals, which is £5 more expensive where I live than a ticket to London Victoria. But there is no option for that.

You can get the proper fare but only by searching for Victoria – a process that takes 15 keystrokes with dysfunctional machines and an impatient queue behind you.

I asked a technician about this earlier in the week and he said they would recommend a change to Govia. We will see what they say.

That may not be a good enough reason to hate a prisoner of Chris Grayling, but it doesn’t exactly imply customer care. You can read some of the history of all this in my book Cancelled!

Sadly the same abuses happen in most privatised services, just as they did before they were privatised. It isn’t a question of public or private, in fact. It is a matter of big versus small – and aligning the interests of operators with customers. Otherwise the gods clash in battles above our heads, us ordinary train travellers. And it isn’t fun.

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