Frustrations boiled over at Rye station on January 3, as commuters returning from the Christmas break faced the double blow of fare rises and continued industrial action.
“Enough is enough,” said office manager Sue Martell. “It’s beginning to put people’s jobs in danger. My bosses have told me it’s not acceptable to be continually late for months on end. I’ve been leaving earlier and earlier in the mornings but even on no-strike days the delays and cancellations often make me late.”
It was a feeling echoed by many. “Passengers have no way of influencing this dispute one way or the other,” said Mike Lee of Hastings, “yet we’re being continually punished by the unions and by Southern’s management for something we didn’t cause and can’t fix. It’s a disgrace and the government should step in.”
And one financial director added: “I had some sympathy at one point with the crews, because I do believe they’re right in thinking that Southern’s ultimate aim is to get rid of the second person on trains altogether – and that can’t be safe on the kind of long journeys we take from this area. But this endless punishment of passengers is beyond belief – I wish someone would line up the whole lot and shoot them.”
One striking Southern crew member, who asked not to be named, said: “No one wants to upset the passengers but it’s the only way we have to make Southern pay attention. It’s not safe for there to be only a driver on a train – we all feel that. And we believe that’s what Southern will eventually do, whatever they say about jobs just now.
“All the crews are losing money at the moment. I’m about £3,000 down myself. Striking is not something we do lightly.”
In an atmosphere of continued cancellations and delays, the fare increases – Southern insist they are “an average” of 1.8 per cent – have caused further anger. With a high-speed annual season ticket from Rye to St Pancras now costing £6,940 (including Underground), passengers feel that they are not getting value for money.
“I moved to Rye because of its good rail connections,” said IT manager John Williams. “But it’s costing me just shy of £7,000 a year to continually be late because the Rye trains are either cancelled or delayed. In other countries the government would step in. And to add insult to injury, I’ve read that the strikes are causing house prices to fall in areas covered by Southern.”
Rye News editor-in -chief Charles Harkness also felt that the government was falling short, later commenting: “The fare increases are the ones agreed by government which sets out what the rail companies can charge (after excessive lobbying of course) and it is the same government that administers the franchises and is expected to ensure that companies meet their commitments. Elsewhere in the world governments accept that business needs workers to be able to get to work and afford to travel – but this is a minor detail that seems to escape this and previous governments in the UK.”
Advertising executive Krista Copeland added: “What we need is a prime minster and majority governing party who can work with the unions.”
Rye News editor John Minter commented: “Personally I am astonished that even the people who run Southern (who clearly don’t give a fig for anything except their grossly inflated salaries) have the cheek to impose any fare increase at all at a time when they are totally incapable of providing any sort of acceptable service.”
Photo: Rye News Historical Archive