Thursday, 18 June 2009

National Express PR machine puffs into action

I had a phone call yesterday from National Express. Paul Cook from The Northern Echo, having read my post a couple of days ago about the latest plans to install permament "gatelines" at Darlington Bank Top Station, is planning on running another story, following up on the ones I also inspired last year about people being unfairly refused access to the station platform to say goodbye to their relatives.

The gentleman from National Express was keen to assure me that, despite evidence to the contrary, the company's policy had not changed and that there has never been any barrier to non-travellers accessing the platforms, as long as they obtained a temporary ticket from station staff.

But...the National Express website still says non-travellers will not normally by allowed on to the platform. we know from anecdotal evidence in Darlington from, among others, the mother of a soldier going off to fight in Afghanistan and a Labour Cabinet portfolio holder on Darlington Borough Council who was refused access to help her elderly mother on to the train, whatever the PR guy says, on the ground, staff at Darlington Station have not been universally helpful in this matter.

The key test here is not what the PR department says is the company's policy, it's what the staff who have to implement that policy are instructed to do, and how they carry out those instructions that counts. The jury is still out on that one.

So, if there really will be free access to the platforms, how will National Express stop people hopping on trains and taking a free ride, which is the reason why these "gatelines" are being introduced.

The answer is that all the temporary tickets will be numbered and will be accounted for by staff, who will know if someone does not return through the gates from the platform. All people passing through the gates will be monitored by CCTV, so there will be photographic evidence of anyone who goes on to the platform but doesn't come back through the gate. There will be no way out of any other station along the line without a valid ticket. And there will still be a full complement of ticket inspectors on the trains.

With all these measures in place, it will be extremely difficult, it seems to me, for anyone to travel without a valid ticket. So there is no reason why National Express staff should refuse to supply a platform ticket to non-travellers.

I look forward to their website being updated to reflect this policy and also to evidence from the ground that the policy is being successfully communicated to station staff.

The power of blogging!

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