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.

Photo: Getty
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A year on from the Brexit vote it’s striking how little we know about where it will lead

So many questions, so few answers.

One year one. Anyone who hoped we’d know what Brexit might look like or even, heaven, forbid, that we’d be inhabiting a post-EU UK by now, must be thoroughly disappointed. Even those with more modest expectations are feeling slightly uncomfortable. Because, a year on, we don’t know that much more about what Brexit means  than we did on 23 June last year (well, we know it means Brexit, I suppose).  

We do know some things. First, that divorce talks are preceding trade talks, as the EU insisted – and David Davies denied – all along. Second what the European Union wants in the initial negotiations is crystal clear and indeed on their website, if you’re interested.

Third, the government, for the moment, remains committed to the kind of hard Brexit it has laid out since the Conservative Party conference. Nothing that has been said or done since the election indicates a softening of that position.

That’s it. That’s essentially all we have to show for the last year. This isn’t to say that stuff hasn’t been done. Both the European Commission and the British civil service have been beavering away on the Brexit issue. Papers have been written, careful, detailed analysis carried out. In fact Brexit has dominated the work of Whitehall since the fateful vote.

But for all this work, it’s striking how little we know about where this process will lead. The government’s commitment to a hard Brexit might not survive. Whether it does so or not will depend on what happens with the things we don’t know. The known unknowns, to coin (well, quote) a phrase.

First, we don’t know how long the prime minister will remain in post. This is obviously important, not least given Theresa May herself has seemingly singlehandedly been defining the kind of Brexit Britain should seek. Yet there is more to it than that. A leadership election would take time, and eat up yet more of the two years stipulated by the EU for the Article 50 process. It would also open the rift within the Conservative party over Brexit. Always a good spectator sport. Never a recipe for effective government.

Second, we don’t know how parliament will behave. Much has been made of the "soft Brexit majority" in the Palace of Westminster. But remember last June? When the significant majority of pro-remain MPs were expected to kick up a fight over Brexit? The same MPs who nodded the triggering of article 50 through with hardly a glance? We just do not know yet how MPs will behave.

And their behaviour will be shaped by both inter and intra-party dynamics. Both the large parties are internally divided over Brexit. The Labour leadership seems happy to leave the single market. Many Labour MPs, in contrast, are fundamentally, and publicly, opposed to the idea. Whether loyalty (not least given the prospect of another election) triumphs over opinions on the EU remains to be seen.

As it does for the Tories. I imagine the phrase "do you really want to risk a Corbyn government" will soon trip off the tongue of every government whip. Whether this threat will prove effective is anyone’s guess. Tory Remainers certainly seemed to rein in their criticism of the prime minister following the "chocolate trousers" affair. Maybe this was simply a case of keeping their powder dry until the legislation needed to make Brexit work hits parliament in the autumn. We’re about to find out. And it will matter much more now the Tories have lost their majority.  Indeed, I think this, more than anything else, is why the prime minister called the election in the first place.

One crucial determinant of how MPs behave will be what public opinion does. Regular polling by YouGov since the referendum has, until recently, shown virtually no movement in attitudes towards Brexit. Around 52 per cent think it was a good idea, and around 48 per cent a bad one. Sound familiar? There has in recent weeks been what could best be described as a slight wobble. What we don’t know is what will happen in the weeks to come. Should the polls show a swing away from Brexit, might politicians swing with it, increasing the pressure on the PM to modify and soften her stance?

Turning from Westminster to Whitehall, will a government with no majority adopt a different style to a government with a small one? This matters, particularly when it comes to business. The May Government before the election was notable for the way it put politics above economics, focusing on the need to ‘take back control’ even if this meant the potential for real economic damage. A number of business leaders report getting short shrift when they visited ministers to voice their concerns.

But can a weak government be so dismissive? We know what most businesses want – certainly the kinds of business that get to knock on ministerial doors. They want single market and customs union membership. They want, in other words, a soft Brexit. Chancellor Philip Hammond, it would seem, has been listening to them from the start. Will his colleagues now start to do so too?

And if government policy does start to shift, this in turn will open up a whole host of new unknowns. Most importantly, might the EU be open to some sort of deal whereby we limit free movement but get some kind of single market membership? That discussion has simply not happened, because of the way in which Theresa May closed it off by stipulating a hard Brexit.

Most EU observers think a compromise is unlikely in the extreme. Yet while the EU won’t be more generous to a non-member state than to a member state, there is no reason a non-member state should buy into all of core EU principles entirely, so there might be some room for compromise. Again, we don’t know. And we won’t unless we decide to ask.

So many questions, so few answers. That is the story of Brexit to date. One year on, and those answers are about to get clearer.

Anand Menon is the director of The UK in a Changing Europe. Read their report: EU referendum: one year on to find out more.

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