I have just received the latest newsletter from our local Association of Passenger Transport Users (APTU). It makes fairly dismal reading. The 14 December temporary timetable still shows a reduction of 30% in the advertised train service - hardly an improvement on the previous timetable which was a reduction of 38%. Apparently drivers at two of the three depots on the Thameslink route have returned to normal working. But if you read some of the comments posted on the self-styled "First Crapital Connect" website (mordantly funny but with a powerful string of passenger comment), even when drivers are making themselves available to work on rest days thay are not always being found things to do.
Nor does it look particularly optimistic on the compensation front apart from the almost meaningless industry standard "delay repay" for 30 minutes or over. They seem to have ruled out ticket extensions because of the impact on other operators. And if cash refunds are offered, it seems that we the taxpayer will be paying most of the money rather than FirstGroup because of the hideously complicated revenue support arrangements under the franchise.
I cannot do better (or worse) than quote the APTU newsletter: The issue in this case is “Revenue Support” – often known as “Cap and Collar”. This is a feature of franchise contracts where the operator receives monies from the Government if revenue is short of expectation (as defined in the contract) – and conversely, pays an additional fee if revenues exceed those expected. The exact rules and precise amounts at which it kicks in are shrouded in mystery (“commercially confidential” is usually claimed), but it is clear that FCC are now receiving the maximum amounts payable, so for every £1 reduction in revenue, 80p is paid by the Department for Transport (or, to be more accurate, the tax payer). If we are to be reimbursed, 80p in every £1 will therefore, in effect, come from the government.
The whole thing is simply surreal. We have to keep pushing for proper compensation but First Group will have to do a lot to persuade me that they should ever be granted a rail franchise again - and any future franchises must have much tougher sanctions to protect passenger interests.