Southeastern’s annual fare increases have been announced. The press release proclaims 1% rises for long distance fares and season tickets, yet there is far less about a uniform increase on Oyster pay as you go fares, above and beyond what TfL are charging for their services.

TfL have frozen pay as you go fares across its network of trains, unless travelling solely in zone 1 or from zone 2 to 1, where a 10p increase occurs. But going from, say, zone 5 to zone 1 sees no rise, or avoiding the centre such as zone 6 to 2. This also occurs on franchises that follow TfLs fare model such as c2c just over the river serving East London and Essex. Not so with Southeastern, where a uniform increase occurs on every pay as you go trip. So a short journey from Abbey Wood to Woolwich Arsenal, for example,  will rise by 5.9%. That’s pretty standard on many trips across the network and follows years with similar levels of increase. Way above almost every other part of the UK.

Get a bus instead?

And it’s not as if buses are much alternative for such a route. Traffic is terrible. Plumstead is often a crawl. Woolwich is too, and for months next year the road linking them is being dug up. Road speeds and bus reliability are falling fast across London.

Then there’s the rolling stock and station ambiance. It’s pretty grim inside the trains. Recently I’ve used London Overground, the tube, DLR, c2c, Southern and South West Trains a fair bit in London, and a fair few other companies across the UK. I’m not just beating up on Southeastern here when I say their interiors are nasty compared to all others. Moving from one service to another is very revealing.

Scratched paint and dirty and broken seats are common. There’s a general air of not giving a damn. A lot of passengers don’t help, but there’s no staff on suburban trains to dissuade. Not many on stations too. A completely different experience for which users have seen the largest price increases for a decade now.

Where’s the politicians?

With a couple of good exceptions, most MPs in SE London and Kent aren’t doing much at all. Only they can achieve what is needed, which is to persuade the DfT to pull their finger out. But have Conservative MPs like James Brokenshire and Bob Neill achieved anything at all with their Conservative colleagues at the Department for Transport? There’s little evidence of it.

Even things cited as improvements such as minor internal alterations (disabled toilets mainly) are only happening as long standing legislation is forcing it by the 2019 deadline. But real, pro active improvements? Nowhere near enough. Only TfL look likely to provide them, and if local MPs cared about commuters they would be actively pushing for it.

Not achieving that in 2014, when SE were given another 4 years, is already causing people in SE London and Kent more money whilst receiving less than other areas where TfL calls the shots. It obtained routes from Greater Anglia in 2014 when SE London and Kent commuters were rebuffed. Shortly after that decision TfL ordered new trains and staffed almost all stations. Pay as you go fares are frozen there. No 6% price increase. Miles away from what Southeastern provide under DfT stipulations.

Crossrail can’t come soon enough. And on that front, most track between Abbey Wood and Plumstead is now down for Southeastern’s new London bound line, which moves over a few metres to free up space for Crossrail tracks and to serve a new platform being built at Abbey Wood, which is now almost complete. That will happen by February. There’s a ton of weekend line closures – starting just before Christmas. It’ll be replacement buses on every weekend for about two months at least. All whilst passengers get large fare increases above and beyond most of the country. Oh, and on a line that saw 20% evening peak time capacity cuts recently too.