Bexleyheath resident, commuter and News Shopper reader Sean Ottley shares his strong views on Southeastern trains and how services can be improved.
When Southeastern was, only this week, voted joint worst train company in the UK I jumped for joy.
Joy that confirmed I hadn't turned into some miserable, complaining kvetch, but that there are actually like-minded people out there who ride and experience the same hellish daily journey as me.
Instead my pain is shared in equal amounts by the many commuters who, according to a Southeastern spokesperson, have revealed their displeasure with its company in a Which? survey because the trains "take people somewhere they don't want to be with money they don't want to pay."
Well, quite a statement for a train operator which, from my experience at least, continually lets me down with poor service and disingenuous Twitter replies that tell me they have alerted the "train presentation and fleet delivery teams" and "sorry this was your experience travelling with us today".
I'm not one to sit here and rain pain on this profiting behemoth of a business if it at least tries to meet certain standards. Train lateness is endemic across the whole of London's transport network but which is mainly due to an ageing Victorian infrastructure, entwined with deplorable under investment - two elements which are out of the hands of Southeastern.
Though at a time when austerity appears to be our society's favourite word, but a consumer's worst, Southeastern falls short in an alarming manner.
My experiences in the last month alone include prime time trains consisting of four carriages, not the usual eight; unclean carriage compartments, particularly on a Monday morning and arguably because there are less (or no) employed cleaners over the weekend; broken doors interlinking the carriages; ripped off seat upholstery; broken public service speakers, which make announcements inaudible… and so on and so forth.
Shamefully, these are not due to bad weather or poor track maintenance - an often heard excuse for daily issues - but instead the result of poor customer service, poor maintenance and an unwavering belief that we are reaping benefits from apparent continuous transport investment. Personally, I am not reaping anything. I have hardly seen anything new, apart from new held anger at the company's regular under-performance.
In 2012, and including subsidies, train operating companies across the UK enjoyed an average profit margin of £305 million. We all know profits can vary each year, but all-in-all, these companies have a very healthy balance sheet.
In fact, and as reported in the Metro last year, Nationalised French rail firm SNCF part-owns Southeastern, Southern and London Midland and made a profit of £21 million from its 35 per cent share in 2012.
So, in effect, our daily, weekly, monthly and annual season ticket charges help line the pockets of a foreign business and it's infrastructure. That's right, our money is inevitably improving their services! A sure-fire example of how privatisation in this particular instance has not worked for the consumer.
Of course train operating companies like Southeastern know that the handcuffed-wrists of us passengers make it impossible for the average commuter to find an alternative route to work, not least in this particular part of London.
So they have us cornered. Captured. Hook, line and sinker.
Something has got to change.
Instead of franchising out a line to one company, why not increase scheduled trains per hour and franchise it out to a selection of operators to increase choice for the passenger. The Oyster system could be incorporated into the carriage entrance, instead of in the ticket office, to allow funds to be redirected just by a passenger choosing another train operating company. If one operator isn't living up to the correct standards, then we can jump on the one after. The under-performing will soon be found out and new entrants can enter the market.
There would be unique competition and pressure to perform across the network between parties such as passengers, individual train companies, the incorrigible National Rail, local councils and the government of the day.
I'm no transport minister but I know one thing is for sure, the current state of affairs is bad for me and it's bad for you.
Sean Ottley is communications manager at a national news agency and a Bexleyheath resident for 29 years. He can be found tweeting @seanottley.
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