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BR charter for confusion

THE FRUSTRATION felt by 100,000 London Underground commuters recently stranded on early morning trains is likely to give rise to claims of about pounds 250,000 under provisions in the Citizen's Charter.

Frustration however is not restricted to the Underground. Gina Dobbs, a publisher who travels to London from Oxford by train, has found that claims for compensation over alleged breaches of the charter do not receive identical treatment.

Ms Dobbs bought a pounds 2,448 British Rail annual Gold Card season ticket for the rail trip between Oxford and London Paddington in September 1992 from Oxford station.

The rail route takes commuters to London via Reading. Despite travelling primarily on the InterCity network, Ms Dobbs is treated as a Network SouthEast customer because her journey starts from a station owned by that network.

Under British Rail's Passenger's Charter, passengers holding monthly or longer season tickets are offered discounts when they renew their tickets. The charter states: 'If on average over the previous 12 months either punctuality has been more than 3 percentage points below target or reliability has been more than 1 percentage point below target we will give a discount of 5 per cent.' The discount only applies to tickets renewed for the same journey.

Detai1s of the punctuality and reliability standards are published on Track Record posters displayed at main stations at four-weekly intervals. On the Thames Line section of Network SouthEast in 1992 the punctuality target was fixed at 80 per cent and the reliability target at 98 per cent. In 1993 these targets were raised to 85 per cent and 98.5 per cent respectively.

However, compensation claims are measured against the targets in force at the time when the ticket was bought and not by those in force at the date of renewal. Therefore even if an annual ticket was bought in December 1992 the target for performance would be those set in 1992 rather than in 1993.

In the early part of January 1993 passengers travelling to Paddington suffered, according to InterCity, 'justifiable anger and frustration'. As compensation Intercity (as opposed to Network SouthEast) offered its monthly and longer season ticket holders 'from Reading or west thereof to or via Paddington' an extra three days' travel.

Within a day Network SouthEast issued a letter to its customers (although Ms Dobbs did not receive a copy of it) making it clear that this compensation offer would only apply to those who purchased tickets at either Paddington, Didcot or Reading. These stations were deemed to be InterCity stations.

The letter continued: 'At all other Thames Line stations, the Network SouthEast Thames Line Passenger Charter operates.' Travellers such as Ms Dobbs therefore did not receive the compensation enjoyed by InterCity customers travelling, in some cases, on exactly the same trains.

Last September Ms Dobbs renewed her annual ticket for pounds 2,880. She also attempted to recover both the 5 per cent discount and the three-day extension from Oxford station. Both claims were rejected. She argued that the Track Record poster stated that reliability in the period to September 1993 amounted to only 78.5 per cent. This was denied by British Rail, which stated that this figure related to punctuality and was insufficient to merit the discount.

One fellow traveller has had more success in claiming compensation. David Beard, who also commutes from Oxford to Paddington every day, applied for a discount on the renewal of his annual season ticket last November from Paddington station. He had bought the ticket from Euston station the year before.

Mr Beard comments: 'I have never seen any written information regarding the different regulations that apply depending on where one buys one's ticket. I buy my ticket at the station that is most convenient.'

According to Network SouthEast, efficiency levels had not then fallen below the required level of reliability and punctuality. But when Mr Beard purchased his annual ticket in November for pounds 2,736 he received a discount of 5 per cent - a saving of pounds 144 on the full pounds 2,880 fare.

When this was pointed out to Network SouthEast by Ms Dobbs the response was: 'I was extremely concerned to read that the 5 per cent discount was being paid out. However, the staff at Paddington fall outside the area of my responsibility as it is owned by InterCity.

'I will therefore be taking action to ensure that this matter is corrected.' (Photograph omitted)