Commuter train hell. Photo: Getty Images
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“They’re parasites”: Passengers fined for standing in first class carriages on busy trains

The great train robbery?

Passengers in overcrowded commuter trains are being fined for standing in first class.

The Surrey Mirror ran a story this morning about “harassed commuters” in packed trains being fined by ticket inspectors. One passenger on the 7.36am service from Oxted to London Bridge, Peter Boyland, told the paper that he saw ticket inspectors for Southern Railway fining passengers standing in first class, “including an elderly woman”.

Southern rush hour trains are notoriously busy, and the operator had the second worst punctuality record in 2014/15. One commuter called Shane, who uses the Brighton line daily from Gatwick to London, tells me he sees such behaviour regularly.

“Southern are shameful, they don’t use common sense,” he says. “They actively have people checking first class tickets but no one else’s. I see it on a daily basis.”

He adds: “I find it infuriating, most people can't stand – let alone sit – and yet these parasites are actively looking to fine people.”

Another commuter, Hannah, a 26-year-old executive assistant, has a similar story to tell about her morning service between St Albans and St Pancras – on the Thameslink train.

“A ticket officer was standing by the door of first class and a passenger asked him if we could use the carriage as it was so busy, due to the Thameslink service being so poor and constantly late! He then said ‘yes’ and then about five minutes later he came in to fine everyone.”

A spokesperson from Thameslink responds to this claim: “The reported behaviour of this member of staff is surprising and not to the high standards we pride ourselves in; we will be investigating. Passengers pay a premium to travel in first class and our policy is that a first class ticket is required to occupy a first class area.”

Passengers report that delayed services and lack of capacity force them to stand in first class.

When to “declassify” carriages is at the discretion of the train conductors. But they rarely decide to do so, even in busy commuter trains, because of those who have paid a premium for a first class ticket.

The more standard class ticket holders there are standing up, the more likely conductors are to make the decision to “declassify”, but there is nothing stopping them fining standard class passengers standing in first class. One commuter called Charlie tells me, incredulously, “You can go into first but not if you stop walking!”

The MP for Reigate in Surrey, Crispin Blunt, says, “It’s completely disgraceful in an overcrowded train, where it would be even more crowded in standard class.”

As a representative of a commuter belt town, Blunt has long been locked in battle with the train operator. “Southern’s attitude to their customers I believe is disgraceful,” he says. “They’re putting revenue maximisation above levels of service.”

He calls his constituents’ journeys to work “bloodstained” and says they travel in “emergency-type conditions”.

Sam Gyimah, MP for East Surrey, is also outraged. “The performance of Southern Rail continues to be extremely disappointing,” he tells me. “Fining passengers forced to stand in first class is absolutely the wrong priority when it is clear that this is a symptom of a lack of capacity on peak services.”

A spokesperson for Southern refutes the claim that standing passengers were fined on that particular journey:

“A penalty fare may be issued if a standard class ticket holder travels in first class accommodation. In this instance, passengers who were issued with penalty fares were sitting in first class accommodation whilst holding standard class tickets.

“First class accommodation is not declassified automatically if the train is busy, but Conductors can use their discretion to declassify if it is deemed necessary.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Supreme Court gives MPs a vote on Brexit – but who are the real winners?

The Supreme Court ruled that Parliament must have a say in starting the process of Brexit. But this may be a hollow victory for Labour. 

The Supreme Court has ruled by a majority of 8 to 3 that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament, as leaving the European Union represents a change of a source of UK law, and a loss of rights by UK citizens, which can only be authorised by the legislature, not the executive. (You can read the full judgement here).

But crucially, they have unanimously ruled that the devolved parliaments do not need to vote before the government triggers Article 50.

Which as far as Brexit is concerned, doesn't change very much. There is a comfortable majority to trigger Article 50 in both Houses of Parliament. It will highlight Labour's agonies over just how to navigate the Brexit vote and to keep its coalition together, but as long as Brexit is top of the agenda, that will be the case.

And don't think that Brexit will vanish any time soon. As one senior Liberal Democrat pointed out, "it took Greenland three years to leave - and all they had to talk about was fish". We will be disentangling ourselves from the European Union for years, and very possibly for decades. Labour's Brexit problem has a long  way yet to run.

While the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will not be able to stop or delay Brexit, that their rights have been unanimously ruled against will be a boon to Sinn Féin in the elections in March, and a longterm asset to the SNP as well. The most important part of all this: that the ruling will be seen in some parts of Northern Ireland as an unpicking of the Good Friday Agreement. That issue hasn't gone away, you know. 

But it's Theresa May who today's judgement really tells you something about. She could very easily have shrugged off the High Court's judgement as one of those things and passed Article 50 through the Houses of Parliament by now. (Not least because the High Court judgement didn't weaken the powers of the executive or require the devolved legislatures, both of which she risked by carrying on the fight.)

If you take one thing from that, take this: the narrative that the PM is indecisive or cautious has more than a few holes in it. Just ask George Osborne, Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and Ed Vaizey: most party leaders would have refrained from purging an entire faction overnight, but not May.

Far from being risk-averse, the PM is prone to a fight. And in this case, she's merely suffered delay, rather than disaster. But it may be that far from being undone by caution, it will be her hotblooded streak that brings about the end of Theresa May.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.