Did Southeastern fiddle its figures?

MPs have demanded an investigation into the way Southeastern compiles its performance statistics after it narrowly escaped paying compensation to regular customers.

Commuters on the firm’s mainline routes – outside SE London – would have been entitled to a 5% discount on season ticket renewals if the company’s punctuality figures had fallen below 82% in the 12 months to December.

But the Daily Telegraph says operating emergency timetables helped the company post a figure of 82.04% – meaning it only just escapes the penalty, and gets to pass on its full fare increase to passengers on Sunday. It also gets compensation from Network Rail for the disruption to its business.

Greg Barker, a climate change minister and Tory MP for Bexhill and Battle, has demanded an independent inspection of the figures, telling the Telegraph they “didn’t smell right”.

Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark and former Labour rail minister Tom Harris have also called for the figures to be looked at, as has the watchdog Passenger Focus.

It’s not the first time the possibility of Southeastern cooking the books has been raised. In February 2010, Transport for London chief Peter Hendy told TfL’s board that running “a very high percentage of a very restricted timetable gives you a very good performance result”.

Passengers regularly got discounts for poor performance in the first two years of Southeastern’s franchise, which began in 2006, as well as from its predecessors South Eastern Trains and Connex. In fact, the only reason I didn’t get an Oyster card for many years was it was cheaper to renew my Travelcard at Charlton station than to buy a new one on Oyster at North Greenwich.

Metro services – which include all SE London stations – are judged by a different set of statistics. Southeastern insists its figures are independently audited each year and are in line with industry practice.

8 comments

  1. I believe they did. I have already taken them to task about this and gotten fairly standard replies of ‘Go speak to passenger foucs’ and that sort of thing.

    I have also asked for the raw figures and been told that I can’t have them as they are ‘commerically sensitive’.

  2. I’m not so sure whether they did fiddle the figures; I would guess that during the snow they knew where they were target wise and used an emergency timetable whenever they could. While other operators ran delayed services, Southeastern just didn’t bother. If you don’t try, you don’t fail and get hit with the bad stat. A proper investigation is necessary for consumer confidence and it might turn up a dodgy stat or some calculated decisions. The thing passengers should be most annoyed about is the measures themselves. If you like in the sticks and are paying £5k a year for your ticket how can 82% be good? Add to that the bizarre definition of ‘on time’ (5 mins late seems to be ok) then you have a shoddy system of measuring performance, they simply manipulate that. I think a bigger rail shake up is needed.

  3. I think H and Peter Hendry have hit the nail on the head.

    By instituting a highly restricted Emergency Timetable, or by simply not even bothering to try to run a service, they may be gaming the system and avoiding notching up the number of ‘delayed’ services… the current system appears to penalise operators who try to run a service in difficult conditions, and reward those who don’t bother trying.

    Any investigation has to look at the rules governing how and when Emergency Timetables can be implemented, and how they are considered when deriving the reliability statistics.

  4. Its real easy to watch SET fiddle their stats in real time. If you’ve got the National Rail app for the iPhone or just watch the live departure boards on the National Rail site. Many times I’ve been on a train that’s 5 or 6 mins late arriving at a station according to the platform display, only for the ‘official’ time that’s sent to Network rail to show 4 mins late departing. Which in SET terms is on time.

    Also take a look at the timetables. There is usually a lot of recovery time between the last 2 stations on a route. This lets a train that’s been 8 or 9 mins down to get to the finish line only 4 mins late.

  5. A minor but important piece of pedantry – SET (South Eastern Trains) is the old franchise holder. Southeastern is the current company.

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