The Consumer’s complaint is about the “unsafe practices” during disruption and the provision of alternative transport.
The Consumer stated that after an hour of waiting for information, they enquired whether a replacement bus would be arranged. The Consumer claims that they were told by station staff that it was too late to organise a replacement bus, however, replacement taxis were arranged. The Consumer noted that there were numerous taxis outside, and they had been waiting in a group of approximately 20 people.
The Consumer asserted that RSP staff ignored safety guidelines in the provision of taxis and they were asked to travel in a taxi with two other people in a way which did not enable sufficient social distancing. In further correspondence, the Consumer noted that staff had not asked people to wear face coverings in taxis and many Covid-19 guidelines were ignored. The Consumer also noted that face coverings were not worn by the other passengers in the taxi they travelled in.
The Consumer was seeking compensation, in addition to which, they wanted the RSP to “admit that their actions were totally unacceptable”.
The RSP initially apologised for “the lack of social distancing with the replacement taxis”. The RSP then contacted the Consumer again and relayed their written account of what happened. This stated that the RSP’s staff had sought advice from the RSP for the cancelled service/route, and rail replacement buses were not possible due to a lack of availability, so they were authorised to organise taxis. The RSP advised that their records indicate that there were around 150 customers requiring a taxi and they could only source 80 taxis, so it was not possible for each individual to travel separately. The RSP further noted that the reason was not cost related. The RSP stated that their understanding was that the driver and other passengers were wearing face masks.
The RSP assured the Consumer that all feedback had been logged and reviewed by management, and that the revised policy at the station is to allow one person per taxi, going forward.
The Consumer noted via correspondence, that they would have preferred a hotel to be provided. The RSP stated that hotels are offered as a last resort, so not appropriate in this case. The Consumer also disputed that people were asked to wear face coverings.
The RSP advised that the number of customers was estimated on the night, in accordance with a staff report, and maintained that the RSP could not source enough taxis to guarantee one taxi per person/group. The RSP asserted that the correct procedures were followed in line with the guidance current at that time and their own policy has since been developed based on more experience and feedback.
What the Ombudsman did
The Rail Ombudsman considered the Consumer’s assertion that the RSP employed unsafe practices by putting people in shared taxis. At the time of the incident government Covid-19 restrictions were much less developed and there was not a National Lockdown, however guidance advised passengers to stay safe by doing the following:
- keeping 2 metres apart from others wherever possible
- wearing a face covering if you can
- using contactless payment where possible
- avoiding rush hour travel where feasible
- washing or sanitising your hands as soon as possible before and after travel
- following advice from staff and being considerate to others
Face coverings became mandatory on public transport from the 15th June 2020 (several months prior to this incident). However, the dominant theme within Covid-19 safety policies is that when travelling by public transport it is not always possible to maintain social distancing, so it is advised to do so where possible and passengers are encouraged to take personal responsibility for their own safety, as noted in the guidance above.
The RSP expressly stated that people were reminded to wear face masks, and that the two other passengers and taxi driver were wearing masks. The Consumer disputes this, but the evidence was not available to make an impartial judgement. Given the time of night, it is acknowledged that the Consumer may have had little choice but to take the taxi, but the Ombudsman considered that a hotel was disproportionate given the proximity of the end destination station. Further, there was no evidence that the RSP had breached available guidance in offering shared taxis. The Ombudsman therefore made no award.
As part of its investigation, the Ombudsman took an inquisitorial approach to the existence of a sector-wide policy relating to replacement taxis during the Covid-19 pandemic and found that no such policy existed. The Rail Ombudsman noted that the RSP’s own policy was amended in light of this claim and recommends that the industry considers this proactively to provide alternatives to passengers during times of disruption.