I was going to stop at 2 posts for today but having been flitting around looking for new material, I did notice that there is a lot of debate on who is more responsible for the poorly received December 2006 timetable and the current state of the Greater Western franchise.
I'm here to present the truth, not to be an FGW apologist so I will not pretend that it's all the DfTs fault. Mechanical failures on trains, staff sickness, poor information, problems with catering, inadequate response to major problems. All within FGW's direct control and all their fault. I'll expand on this in the future.
However, the service level agreement for the franchise was set by the DfT. The vast majority of cuts in services can be laid at the feet of the DfT. While it was within the scope of FGW to build on the minimum set out in the agreement, all additional services had to be approved by the DfT. Taking into account that FGW will pay the DfT £1.1bn should the franchise run its course and you have a situation in which it is very difficult for additional services to be introduced. When you take into account that the franchise agreement also included millions of pounds worth of improvements at stations and on the trains themselves and the situation looks even bleaker.
The DfT has reminded FGW that they control who wins the franchises. They have 'expressed a wish' that no blame be attributed to them for anything to do with the state of the franchise, 'or else'. In fact, the long suffering Customer Service department has been told that they are not to mention the DfT in communication to customers under any circumstances, even if the DfT really is the source of the problem that the customer is complaining about. This has led to FGW taking more than its fair share of blame for things that are beyond its control
There is the view that if MPs like Thresa May and Boris Johnson know what is going on, why are they calling for FGW to be stripped of the franchise. Well, I think that this is a simple one to answer. FGW are the public face of the franchise and the ones that everybody blames when things go wrong. Even if said MPs know what is going on, by seeming to champion the commuters cause, they look like wonderful people. That means votes. That means re-election and that means not having to get a proper job.
It is understandable that FGW will take all the stick from customers. They are, as has been mentioned many times, the public face of the franchise. It's also true that First did not have to bid for the franchise, but considering the large chunk of profit that would have been lost if they had not done so, there was not much of a choice.
FGW is also the one paying the compensation when things go wrong, whether it is their fault or the fault of the DfT. No money is claimed from the DfT because First Great Western had to pay out for a situation not of their making. FGW absorbs the blame.
It is also true that there are other franchise operators who run their services much better than FGW. I would add the small argument that not many of them were hamstrung with such a ludicrous starting base as FGW was, but FGW is not faultless. Tomorrow, I will comment on FGW's failings as a company and how these can be addressed as well as provide a short piece on ticketless travel and those Revenue Protection Inspectors that customers find so annoying. Maybe that will lead to some more understanding as well.