News is trickling out that the next Southeastern franchise process may have to start again from scratch.
In recent weeks it was reported that the DfT have struggled to find bidders, and of the three organisations that have bid, all have issues and bids were non-compliant.
If another delay is announced it will the latest in a succession of delays beginning in 2012 after the DfT made mistakes with the West Coast franchise which had knock on effects to other franchise awards.
Since then a number of short term extensions for Southeastern have been announced, with the franchise effectively in limbo and little future planning or investment underway – particularly on Metro routes.
The current three bidders all have problems. The incumbent, GoVia, were part of the disastrous Thameslink timetable change in May. Their CEO at the time, Charles Horton, was previously in charge of Southeastern. He eventually resigned.
Another bidder is Stagecoach, who recently handed back the East Coast franchise after overbidding. The Virgin joint venture was 90% owned by Stagecoach.
The third bidder, Abellio, is believed in some areas of the press to have overbid for the Greater Anglia franchise.
In addition, the Government have announced an entire review of the franchise system given continual problems stretching back years.
One issue with franchises is stagnant passenger numbers, after years of growth. Companies bid on high levels of growth and the model falls apart when below expectations.
On the flip-side, in the past the DfT have awarded no-growth franchises, and when passenger numbers do rise an inflexible system cannot cope and severe overcrowding results.
On a purely speculative note, passenger numbers on Southeastern are likely to be under-counted. I travel on many networks in day-to-day life and none are as “open” as Southeastern.
Yesterday I traveled across the system for many journeys and every single barrier and gate was open including major stations such as Victoria (just after 8pm) and Lewisham. No staff are on trains. It’s a doddle not to pay.
Compare it to Great Western, c2c, South West Trains and more and it’s a big difference. Not all those other networks are great, but none as poor as Southeastern at staffing stations or trains within London.
The increasingly decrepit Networker train used by Southeastern (with no thorough refurbishment after 25+ years of service – in part due to continual short term franchise extensions) only has passenger counting equipment on a minority of stock.