That title is unashamedly pinched from the utterly brilliant Yes, Minister, which is still as relevant today as it was 35 years ago, except with fewer mobile phones. However, the premise is still the same, in that the public are only told what the powers at be think we need to know, rather than what we have the right to know.
In no area is this more blatant than our railways. Passengers are kept in the dark about everything from where profits go to, to what causes points to fail. Fares rise year in year out, and the same promises are made year in year out, that the rises are needed to fund investment. Yet nothing ever seems to improve, and, this year in particular, services in some areas have declined to a level so unacceptable it's a miracle civil war hasn't broken out.
Two years ago I wrote a post on Driver Only Operations - see here - and nothing has changed. The public want guards, the RMT members have sacrificed thousands striking to protect the role of the guard, yet the stalemate exists. And still no one from within the rail industry has stepped into the spotlight to explain to everyone WHY they want to take guards off trains. Obviously it's to save money but no one has the guts to admit it. It's because they don't think we need to know.
One of my greatest triumphs as a guard was seeing the penny drop in a passenger's eyes when I pointed out to her that leaves on the line look a lot different to leaves on the tree. A black, oily difference to be precise. That was 19 years ago. What has happened since? There is still mocking derision at the leaves on the line excuse as there was then. Yes, various operators and Network Rail have put out videos trying to explain, but the people who need to understand aren't the people watching Network Rail videos.
The media are a joke. Mainstream media are so happy to bash the rail industry they will print anything, true or not, in order to make headlines. The Woodland Trust ignore pictures of trains hitting fallen trees which could have killed drivers to bleat on about Network Rail clearing lineside trees as an affront to society. The rail media are so far up the industry's backside the day they come out on the side of the passenger will be the day there isn't a single signal failure anywhere in the UK, so who does the passenger complain to? Where is their voice? Who is actually there for them, explaining things so they understand?
If you want a job from Hell take a job on the Twitter feed of a train operator. Those poor sods get it in the neck morning, noon and night and my heart goes out to them. They have a list of stock responses they have to use, most of the time are obviously not privy to relevant information themselves, yet are the first port of call for the passengers' ire and frustration, quite often abusively. It's not their fault a train has stopped in the middle of nowhere, but they are the only outlet to vent frustration, especially if the only on board member of staff is the driver.
So how can this long standing status quo be altered? What can be done to help and educate the passenger at the same time? How can the same passenger be told what they have the right to know rather than what others decide they need to know. As Sir Humphrey would have said "If you start telling people what they want to know, rather than what they need to know, then they'll know, and start asking awkward questions we don't know the answers to."
The industry doesn't help itself. Take fares, for example. They are so damned complicated Einstein would have been confused. To give you an example I was given only this week. A friend of mine was at Ebbsfleet International station, wanting an off peak return to London, going out one afternoon and returning the next. Can't be done - an off peak return has to be the same day, so two singles totalling £36 was the cheapest option. Except it wasn't. The helpful ticket clerk realised that if you go in and out of London off peak returns become Anytime returns which are valid for a month, so sold my friend an Anytime return to East Grinstead for £24.60. It is examples such as that which drive customers crazy, yet nothing is ever done.
So a voice is needed which takes the side of the passenger, explains things they ought to know, have the right to know, and holds the right people to account. I suggested to the Association of British Commuters earlier in the year that a publication was needed to do just that, which would be read by as many passengers as possible. A weekly or fortnightly paper, given out free at stations, like the Metro or Evening Standard, that was on the side of the commuter, yet dispelled a few myths, published good stories about the railways too, but above all told the truth. I suspect advertisers would fall over themselves to be seen in such a publication, and there would need to be regional variants in time. It would also force the industry to be more transparent and honest. If tocs saw thousands of copies of "The Commuter" being recycled from their trains every week or two it might make them realise that the passengers now knew what they didn't want them to know and that meant acts had to be got together, and fobbing off was no longer viable.
So my plea to the Association of British Commuters is this. You are doing an amazing job in highlighting what you do, but a publication would reach millions more, and force people to give answers and improve things. We've seen in France recently what can happen if the public pull together. The railway passengers cannot pull together unless they know what they are pulling together over, and to do that they need to know what currently they don't know! I want to be a part of this, and I have no doubt whatsoever it would be a winner, particularly for the poor passenger, who is still in the dark because what they think they know is only what others think they need to know, not actually what they need to know, or indeed have the right to know. Know what I mean?