Rail campaigners have launched an opt-out collective action (claim) in the Competition Appeal Tribunal against Govia Thameslink Railway Limited (GTR) and its parent companies, The Go-Ahead Group Plc and Keolis (UK) Ltd.

It is alleged GTR has infringed UK competition rules by issuing fares that restrict travel to Southern and/or Thameslink train brands on the London-Brighton mainline and then inflating the price of fares that permit travel on two or three other GTR brands (Gatwick Express, Southern and Thameslink).  

The claim also alleges GTR unlawfully inflates fares where passengers use Oyster or contactless payment facilities to tap in or tap out at London Victoria platforms 13 and 14 (including passengers who start or finish travel at GTR stations north of London). 

The claim states the applicable regulatory regime does not entitle GTR to issue fares limited to only Southern and/or Thameslink train brands (except for advance fares) but requires GTR's fares to permit travel on all three brands. 

It is alleged that by charging higher prices for fares permitting travel on two or all three GTR train brands, GTR has abused its dominant position in the market for rail services on the London-Brighton mainline in breach of the Competition Act 1998.

The claim includes rail passengers domiciled in the United Kingdom, who after 30 September 2015: 
(i)    purchased ‘any permitted’ fares, except where a fare was for travel exclusively within the Travelcard Zones; 
(ii)    purchased ‘not Gatwick Express’ fares, except where a fare was for travel exclusively within the Travelcard Zones; 
(iii)    tapped in or out at London Victoria platforms 13 and 14; and/or 
(iv)    were required to pay for penalty or excess fares on a GTR train brand excluded by the fare purchased. 

Anyone domiciled outside the UK who purchased any of these fares may choose to be included in the claim.

Preliminary indications show millions of passenger journeys may have been affected. Seasoned rail campaigners, Edward Vermeer and David Boyle, seek to represent the class of passengers affected by the claim. 

Vermeer and Boyle have instructed Maitland Walker LLP. Maitland Walker has engaged Charles Hollander QC of Brick Court Chambers and David Went of Exchange Chambers.

The Maitland Walker team is comprised of Julian Maitland-Walker and Adrian Render. Maitland-Walker has over 40 years’ experience in competition practice and Render is one of the few UK competition lawyers who has experience of opt-out collective action cases, having worked on US federal multidistrict litigation on several consumer cartel damages recovery and monopolisation opt-out actions.

Render commented: “This claim is about seeking redress for the passengers that have been required to pay higher prices for travel rights that they should have had in any event. These rights are set out in the fare setting regulations with which GTR is required to comply. In breach of the fare setting regulations, GTR issues fares that restrict these rights and then inflates the prices passengers must pay for fares that do grant passengers their rights.

 “GTR also restricts passengers’ rights that pay for travel using Oyster or contactless payment facilities. Where such a passenger taps in or taps out at London Victoria platforms 13 and 14 they pay more to travel than if they had tapped in or out at other platforms at London Victoria.

 “This is exactly the type of the claim that the opt-out regime was designed for, and we hope to recover damages for those passengers that have overpaid to travel. Individual damages are relatively modest but the issues are complex, and the issue is expected to affect millions of passengers.”

A spokesperson for Govia Thameslink Railway said: “We dispute the allegation that we have breached competition law, and do not believe the claim should be allowed to proceed. We work in a highly regulated industry and fully comply with the terms of our franchise agreement with the Department for Transport. We will make our submissions to the tribunal in due course.”

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