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 senior writer at the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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