Why we need a little civil disobedience and please help me provide it!

The rail crisis is reaching its reluctant and rather tawdry head. Even passengers campaigners are being singled out for flaming criticism by the government’s supporters in the press, as the leaders of the Association of British Commuters were so unfairly over the weekend.

We are in short being forced to take sides in the traditional management versus labour battle – when people like me believe that the slow collapse of Southern Rail is mainly to do with incompetent franchising from the Department of Transport and absentee landlord behaviour from the Treasury and owners Go Ahead (as well, of course, on the usual useless industrial relations).

How do we keep up the voice of passengers in this great squeeze? The answer is to learn from Gandhi. Which is why I’m going to demonstrate a little light civil disobedience on Wednesday at 5.45pm at the barrier at Brighton Station (assuming they don’t cancel my train).

In short, as a regular user of GTR services (Southern, Thameslink etc), I have now reached the end of my tether. I’m not any more prepared to submit my ticket (which I will buy) to the company for inspection, when they have manifestly failed to provide me with an adequate or reliable service, now for eight months.

So do join me. I hope it will be fun. We will politely, demand to see the manager to open the gates for us – on the grounds that they are not keeping to their side of the contract. We will also have cake to celebrate our revival of the Blitz spirit in the face of such official indifference.

If the gates are open already, we will claim victory and try again another day. I’ve been blogging about this crisis – and the industrial dispute which is also going on – since June now. And I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a matter of self-respect. If we can be pushed around like this on this relatively small matter – taking our money, increasing fares, giving us an increasingly useless service – then what else will they do to us? It is time to draw a line in the sand for reasonable people.

Please come along on Wednesday and help me draw it!

* David Boyle is a former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate and the author of Tickbox (Little, Brown). You can buy the book from Hive or Amazon.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Richard Easter 10th Jan '17 - 10:31am

    Given they want their DOO nonsense, there will be no one to check tickets anyway! Take a seat in first. No one will be along!

  • Isn’t a ‘strike’ just a form of ‘civil disobedience’? You are ‘inconvenienced’ by your transport system and seek group action; workers in that industry face the loss of their jobs and take group action…
    BTW…I love the bit about a ” little” civil disobedience; so LibDem….

  • Richard Warren 10th Jan '17 - 10:55am

    Would Southern Rail passengers be best served if the company was owned by them? Not nationalised (Corbyn), not privatised (Tories), but mutualised (Lib Dems)! Could Southern Rail work as a mutual? Or should it be a co-operative owned by its workers (and passengers)? Is this a debate we can have? Would this be a viable policy?

  • Grayling should get off his derriere and intervene (as LLG did in 1912).

    But of course he won’t because as a true Tory he’s using the Southern Rail franchisers to break the union. If the public is inconvenienced he’ll mouth platitudes. But actually do something ? No way………….. and anyway he’s got a nice government car and chauffeur to get between Epsom & Ewell and Westminster.

    PS, in Scotland the same issue was settled quickly ………….. but then we don’t have a Tory government.

  • PS. Southern rail receives over £ 90 in public funding subsidies – and sent £ 23 million out in dividends to share holders. Can somebody explain who benefits from that ?

  • The strike is supposed to be about safety. How come other networks run driver-only trains safely? I frequently use the Paris region’s transit trains (the RER) which seem at least as long as Southern Rail’s. Although they are packed at rush hour when they run every few minutes, there have never been reports of accidents due to lack of conductors.

  • A Social Liberal 10th Jan '17 - 3:00pm

    Alan Depauw said

    ” . . . How come other networks run driver-only trains safely . . . . “.

    Do they, Alan, do they really? According to the government statistics, of the ten accidents since 2011 which involved getting on or off English trains, eight involved DDO whilst only two guard employed trains. Further, the rail unions point out that the employment of guards in other types of accidents meant that they could play a positive role in first aid, safely removing passengers from the scene of the accident and the dangers of the track bed etc.

    Many thanks to Fullfact who investigated the claims on both sides


  • Alan DePauw,

    I’m not familiar with Paris but the impression I get is that the RER is essentially comparable to the longer-distance London Underground services. Stations close together, detailed train control, no level crossings, frequent station stops. Not really comparable to e.g. London to Bognor or Eastbourne!

    I want a second member of staff on my long-distance trains for many reasons – answering queries, revenue protection, dealing with unruly passengers and – most importantly – there if the driver is incapacitated (possibly miles from anywhere).

  • Phil Wainewright 10th Jan '17 - 6:55pm

    I don’t commute regularly, but last summer I spent one week escorting my son to and from a computing course in central London. During those ten journeys I witnessed two occasions – one involving a heavily disabled passenger in a motorized wheelchair and the second a young mother with a baby in a pushchair accompanied by a toddler – who had the doors closed on them because neither the driver nor the platform official had seen that they were still boarding. The incident with the wheelchair took place at Westminster station on the Jubilee line platform, one of the most modern and best equipped stations on the entire network.
    My conclusion based on this random but potentially representative sample is that driver only operation has serious safety shortcomings and the unions are right to be concerned about the implications, especially with the older rolling stock and far less pristine conditions of stations across much of the Southern rail network.
    Furthermore, as David has explained in several posts on his own blog, the appalling service on Southern has very little to do with union intransigence and is mostly due to management incompetence and the machinations of Chris Grayling’s department, which directly controls this train operator (unlike a typical rail franchise).
    I wish you the best of luck with your protest David and would like to say a thank you for the very informative research and blogging you’ve been doing about this dispute as it’s dragged on.

  • Alan Depauw 10th Jan '17 - 7:12pm

    A Social Liberal: The ‘full fact’ article you quote pre-dates the safety report from the HM Chief Inspector of Railways. I suppose it’s a case of either believing the Inspectorate, or the Union. But driver-only trains are in operation across Europe and it’s difficult to understand why Southern should be an exception.

    Crewegwyn: The RER network is completely separate from the Metro. With 587 kms of track, It covers a vast area called Ile de France. The longest line is about 150 kms. Of the 257 stations, only 33 are in Paris proper. 2.7 million people use it daily. There are plenty of level crossings. Some of the trains are even double-deckers! It’s not an ideal network; there are many complaints about frequent delays due to track and signalling problems. But no-one questions the fact it’s driver-only.

  • Richard Easter 10th Jan '17 - 8:13pm

    In the previous article on here on Southern, a train driver under the name Steve commented and explained why DOO is dangerous from a front line perspective.


    And in todays news…


  • A Social Liberal: Statistics are great. The ten incidents reported by the RMT occurred over three and half years, which by my reckoning means there’s one door related incident of any kind for every 5 billion train journeys in this country. Not a big risk then.

  • Stephan Breban 11th Jan '17 - 10:42am

    Good luck. I like the tactic.

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