Why Does Southern Even Bother Having First Class?

Passengers have taken to Twitter this evening to complain once again about overcrowding on Southern trains.

The cramped conditions were bad enough but several people complained about Southern’s failure to declassify first class.

Declassifying First Class

When trains are overcrowded the conductor is supposed to declassify first class.  The idea is that allowing standard-class passengers into first class should make additional seats and standing room available to relieve the pressure.

Those who have paid for a first class ticket should be compensated by the train operator for the inconvenience.

Frequently this does not seem to happen.  And a recent Southern proposal to remove conductors from trains seems to make declassification of first class even less likely, as well as raising fears of trains in Sussex becoming a “muggers paradise”.

Ulterior Motive

Whilst I am not suggestion this is GTR’s policy – they run the Southern Trains brand – a possible motive for not declassifying first class is obvious.

When trains are severely overcrowded, passengers often feel it is reasonable to stand in first class.  They are not occupying first class seats, just trying to find a space where they are not wedged into someone’s armpit.

On a number of occasions revenue protection officers have been reported to target those doing so and issue penalty fares, threatening anyone who protests with the police or being ejected from the train.  This heavy-handed approach is a highly unfair and inappropriate practice, given the circumstances.

Not only would such a practice unethically improve Southern’s profit margin but it would also line the pockets of greedy ticket inspectors, who may keep up to 5% of the penalty fares they collect.

Frankly,  I don’t think anyone who treats fare-paying passengers this way deserves to wear a rail staff uniform … and with behaviour they are sometimes reported to exhibit, perhaps some belong in a prison uniform.

Time to Get Rid of First Class

If you travel from Brighton to London during the rush hour, you will pay £49.20 for the “pleasure” and may well travel surrounded by passengers in cramped conditions.

Pay £73.80 and you can travel in first class.  For the extra £24.60, you get a little napkin draped over the back of a seat – that does not appear to be any larger than seats in standard class – and a set of sliding doors to separate you from the “riff-raff” – accountants, nurses, retail staff, lawyers, doctors, …

This is hardly what anyone would call a first-class experience!  Given Southern’s poor record on running train services, perhaps it is time for them to dispense with first class and focus on delivering a better standard-class service to the many disgruntled commuters fed up with overcrowded trains.

Department of Transport Sleeping on the Job

Maybe it is time the Department of Transport woke up and started doing the job we are paying for through our taxes.  They have shown a staggering level of incompetence during recent years, allowing private companies to profiteer from the daily misery of commuters and rip them off at every turn.

They could start by issuing rules for declassifying first class.  I would suggest that when more than 20 people are standing in any carriage on the train, this should signal that first class should become generally available.

It should certainly not be left up to train companies, let alone individual and increasingly invisible conductors, to make this decision.