A silent, unnoticed end: RIP London Travelwatch
It does seem the death knell is ringing loud and clear for London Travelwatch. For those of you that don't know according to its website:
"We can assist with complaints about transport in London when the service provider has not satisfactorily resolved them. We deal with services operated or licensed by Transport for London, which includes London Underground, London's buses, Docklands Light Railway, Croydon Tramlink, Dial-a-Ride services, London River Services, Woolwich Free Ferry, taxis, private hire cars and most of the major roads in Greater London. In addition, we deal with services operated by the national rail companies, Heathrow Express and Eurostar."
Contract termination notices have already been served to many of the 20 staff but the demise of this non-departmental government body has raised barely a whimper. In fact it has been hardly reported and it seems there are very few supporters of London Travelwatch.
The Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservatives on the London Assembly Transport Committee want it scrapped. The report on that is here [296KB PDF].
The Transport Committee says scrapping it would save £1m a year on items like accommodation by moving the staff into City Hall. The report says the recommendation is not taken lightly.
"In short, we envisage folding the organisation within the London Assembly to achieve significant savings in the sharing of back office functions such as accommodation, corporate management, communications, finance, human resources and committee administration.
"The board would be replaced by a small number of Assembly Members who would oversee the work to support passenger representation in the capital. We would expect that this work would be carried out by a small secretariat in City Hall which would fulfil the casework and research functions relating to Transport for London. Passenger Focus would be commissioned by the Assembly to take on responsibility for rail passenger representation in the London rail area."
The accusation broadly is that in terms of casework, London Travelwatch has not done a good enough job, and there is no point having an independent board.
The casework team consists of seven staff.
Last year they received 3,594 initial complaints from members of the public about transport operators, and had 7,000 telephone enquiries. They then dealt with 2,200 appeals which were resolved one way or the other.
The proposal is to still have a casework unit within the London Assembly, and leave the rail complaints to the national body Passenger Focus.
There are a number of concerns in doing this and the phrase I've heard is: "throwing the baby out with the bathwater".
1. If rail is handed back over to Passenger Focus, a national body, who will deal with Oyster card complaints? 60% of the complaints dealt with by London Travelwatch are about rail and most of them about the Oyster card. As it stands Passenger Focus is not set up to deal with Oyster complaints. That would have to change. Presumably extra funds would have to be given to Passenger Focus to deal with these extra complaints? Will that be a saving then?
2. If the new case work unit is brought under the control of politicians, then it will no longer be independent. It would be much easier with that structure for party political agendas to come into play. Some complaints could be highlighted above others. Also the elected politicians are voted in by residents and businesses and rightly defend and highlight their interests - and although they overlap, they're not necessarily the same interests as commuters. Who would be solely defending the traveller under the new structure?
3. The concern is we will lose specialist knowledge of London's transport system. For example when the East London Line was closed to be rebuilt, commuters could travel into zone one with no extra charge for the duration of the works. That was introduced after lobbying by London Travelwatch, a whole 18 months before the actual closure. Who would do that under the new structure?
4. Who will speak out independently on issues regarding transport in the capital? Even from a journalistic point of view, London Travelwatch have always put forward a point of view that solely reflects the interests of the traveller. Who will do that in the future without party politics coming into play?
The bottom-line is when every major party on the Assembly wants you out, your days are numbered.
But perhaps these are issues that should be addressed in any new structure.
I'd be interested if anyone has any opinions about London Travelwatch, if it has helped you in the past, and indeed if it will be missed at all...