Interesting contrast on two journeys recently. On East Coast, a very friendly conductor asked me for my Senior Railcard – yes folks I have one – when I showed hm my ticket. I said that he was the first conductor to ask for it in ove a year and a half and, in fact, my card had run out for some of that period and I had taken journeys without realising it. He said that this happened a lot and that people forgot to renew. I pointed out that although I had ordered it online, as most people do, there was no automatic reminder, which would hardly take any effort to do.
He agreed, and said that he never made people buy a full fare, but merely charged them the extra that they would have paid without the card, and if it was only a couple of quid, he did not bother. But he did say there was a bit of self interest as he got £6 for every renewal that was made as a result of his check.
On Virgin, there was a superficially equally friendly conductor, a middle aged woman who gave very clear and precise details about ticket availability. We were on the Mark 3 train out of Euston, a real pleasure, in contrast to the ghastly Pendolino, and she specifically explained this was a ‘spacious train’. Indeed. She too, asked for my Railcard and when I showed it to her, I said that it had once run out because I had not received a renewal reminder.
Oh yes, she said, ‘there’s a lot of fraud around cards’ ‘Fraud?’ I replied ‘That’s hardly the right word. Its just people forget and they do not get reminded which would not take much to do’ ‘Well its fraud because they are cheating on their tickets. And it would be a lot of administration to send out reminders’. I let it drop, as clearly we were not going to get anywhere, but there is an important point here. Most people who have forgotten to renew their Oldie cards are not deliberate fraudsters. Its a question of attitude. If Virgin is really training its people to suggest that we are all fraudsters out to cheat Beardie Rail of a few quid every time we travel, the company has a serious customer relations problem.It is about as far from Branson’s public image as a friendly entrepreneur aiming to do his best for his customers as it could be.
The contrast between the two conductors could not have been greater. I am not saying, though, it is always like that – older readers may remember I had a bad experience on the first day that East Coast was taken over by the government but I did have a particularly awful Virgin conductor in the past too. So its 2 -1 to Virgin for bad experiences in the recent past, so far.