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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 11:03 GMT
The man who wants commuters to strike
David Da Costa at Liverpool Street Station
David Da Costa: "It is the British disease to do nothing"
Could exasperated rail commuters rise up and embarrass the government, like the fuel protesters before them? BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy meets the man with a bold plan.

It sounds like the last thing the beleaguered rail commuter wants to hear after the latest disruptive spate of industrial action - a national rail strike.

But this time it's the passengers themselves who are being urged to withdraw their "labour" by boycotting trains for one day.

The state of the railways has caused massive disruption to people's lives - it's even put a strain on marriages

David Da Costa
Their ringleader is David Da Costa, a seriously irate commuter who could turn out to be public transport's answer to chief fuel protester Brynle Williams.

Last week it was reported the government had been warned that 2002 could be a year of "train rebellions" by angry and frustrated rail commuters.

The evidence was said to have been uncovered by the Labour Party's leading pollster, Philip Gould, who found the public had given the government's transport performance a rating of minus 49%.

Since then tensions have been ratcheted up further with strikes by South West Trains staff and an unofficial overtime ban by drivers with Scotrail.

Brynle Williams
Brynle Williams: The farmer who sparked the fuel protests
Passengers are tired of being trodden on, says Mr Da Costa. The time has come for direct action.

Given that Britain has one of the most expensive yet decrepit rail networks in Europe, it is perhaps a miracle that matters didn't come to a head sooner.

In fact, the public almost seems to be a glutton for punishment. Despite the increase in delays and disruption post Hatfield, the railways are enjoying record passenger numbers.

The problem has been a lack of organisation, says Mr Da Costa.

"It is the British disease - to complain and do nothing. But until now there has not been a vehicle to co-ordinate the ill-feeling of passengers."

Bitter experience

He is scornful of the established passenger body, the Rail Passengers Council, saying that its credibility is compromised by being funded by the Department of Transport.

Delays in 2001
Signal failures accounted for almost 25,000 delays last year, on average 10 minutes long.
Mr Da Costa started to speak out after he moved to the West Country four years ago and starting commuting to central London.

"I pay 6,000 a year to travel into work. It is the only service we pay twice for - once through our taxes, that go to subsidise the rail companies, and again for our ticket."

Chronic delays have, at times, stretched his normal 1hr 30mins train commute to up four hours.

Will it change anything?

He began campaigning locally before setting up the Better Rail Advisory Group (Brag), which has become an umbrella group for the many regional independent passenger pressure groups around the country.

Through these groups Brag claims 20,000 "associate members" - ordinary working people who, Mr Da Costa hopes, will become activists for a day by boycotting the trains.

I have been contacted by one or two fuel protesters. They want to know how they can help

"We are co-ordinating with 23 regional groups in England and Scotland. It's a very captive market if you think about it, so in the run up to the boycott we will be handing out leaflets on the trains advising how people can participate."

But can a one-day boycott really make a difference?

Even if Mr Da Costa's target of 20% of regular rail users heed the call to stay at home on 1 March, rail companies will hardly be out of pocket. After all, most commuters travel on season tickets.

And the following day, the trains will be as busy as ever.

Who will take part?

"We don't want to bring the country to a standstill like the fuel protesters. We just want to embarrass the government, to show them we are fed-up and we are an important part of the electorate," says Mr Da Costa.

Brag is urging key workers such as teachers and health staff not to get involved.

"Only people in the private sector, who have the agreement of their employers, should join in."

Sporting a pinstripe suit and gentleman's raincoat, Mr Da Costa is a reminder that it's not only idealistic young radicals who are angry enough to take direct action. Middle-class, middle England is also capable of rebelling against authority.

"We want to see a cohesive long-term strategy to improve the national rail infrastructure. If we don't see evidence of this after the first day boycott, then we will call for another in 60 days, and so on."

See also:

07 Jan 02 | UK
Rail strikes condemned
29 Dec 01 | Review of 2001
A year of rail chaos
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