Following government announcements this week, and the confirmation of our timetable changes from Sunday 17 May, I'd like to update you further on our customer service plans for the coming weeks.
Informing travel decisions before the journey: only travel by public transport if there are no other options
The Government has made it clear that the overarching advice continues to be for people to use public transport only if there are no other options, and that walking, cycling or driving should be used as alternatives. We are highlighting this message, alongside the rest of the industry, to help ensure that rail services are available for passengers who need them most.
For those who have no other option, we're asking them to travel outside of the peak hours if they can, and to adapt to a new way of travelling as follows:
Firstly, we're asking passengers to plan ahead through buying tickets in advance online or using smartcards - removing the need to buy at the station. Where that's not an option, we're suggesting using the ticket machine, and the ticket office as the final option, with a contactless card.
At the station
We're making plans to direct passenger flow in stations in a way that supports social distancing - especially at our larger stations where it may be necessary to have one way or queuing systems for example. We will be working with our colleagues at Network Rail on the approach at our London Terminals. We'll use methods such as posters, monitor screens, stickers, floor markings and announcements to prompt passengers to maintain a two-metre distance where that's feasible. These will gradually appear at stations over the next few days.
We'll continually assess passenger flow through the day making amendments as required, for example changing entries and exits on a gateline to help manage people on concourses and platforms. We will monitor numbers very closely in real-time through our already established data gathering systems on trains, gateline information, and also from station teams who are linked into our control room at Three Bridges.
From this live data and staff feedback, our control room can make decisions to support the network depending on the situation, for example issuing website and social media announcements to encourage passengers to avoid a busier route or station, or to provide an additional stop at a station. We'll also encourage passengers to check for latest advice before setting off, and to allow more time for any flow management or queuing in place.
Staff will continue to keep services running for those who must travel, as they have to date, providing good customer service to passengers. They will guide passengers in social distancing, although they are not expected to police this directly. We will have assistance from our colleagues in the British Transport Police should it be needed.
Supporting the national rail communications drive, we'll be reminding passengers at stations to keep their distance, but also to wear face coverings, and to maintain the good hygiene that has been a key part of government advice since the start of the pandemic.
Cleaning and hygiene
We've already enhanced the regular cleaning regimes on stations and trains through extra staff, focusing particularly on high touch points such as handles and grab-rails. In addition, we've just completed treatment of our entire fleet of trains with a new viruscide which kills the Coronavirus for 30 days, and the same is in progress at our stations. The application of this product is undertaken after areas are thoroughly cleaned.
We have also ordered 1000 'no-touch' hand sanitisers to be distributed to stations to bolster hygiene measures for those passing through.
Performance and punctuality
As we add to services from next week, we are continuing to work with Network Rail to ensure that our railway is as reliable and punctual as possible, and that issues that arise are dealt with quickly through the control room. We have also reviewed our standard operating plans to be more flexible in the event of any network disruption to ensure that we do what we can to manage passenger numbers on trains and at stations.
We will monitor passenger numbers as well as changes in customer patterns and behaviour very closely during these next few weeks and will adapt our approach to customer service where it is necessary.
We'd be very grateful for your assistance in promoting the core government message: "if you have to travel to work because you cannot work from home, please avoid public transport - if possible walk, or cycle or go by car". We can send you material or links to help if you can.
We'd also welcome any feedback from your local area that might be useful to our operations, and equally, if you would like further discussions on plans for the next few weeks please don't hesitate to contact us.
Managing Director, Southern and Gatwick Express and GTR Executive lead on COVID-19