Passenger complaints to train companies reached the one million mark last year - with Virgin Trains receiving the most written moans.
Written and telephone complaints in the 12 months to March 1999 totalled 1,072,958 - 8per cent rise on the 1997-98 figure, Rail Regulator Tom Winsor said.
Richard Branson's Virgin West Coast and Virgin Cross-Country companies, which offer pre-printed forms for passenger to register their protest, received the most written complaints.
The figures were made up of 737,331 written complaints and 335,627 telephone complaints.
Apart from the tiny Isle of Wight company, Island Line, the company with the least number of written complaints was Gatwick Express.
"The rising trend of complaints is completely unacceptable" said
Mr Winsor. "I believe many areas of passenger concern and complaints can,
and should, be put
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VIRGIN TRAINS BBC Watchdog 04.03.99
Virgin Trains have a telephone booking service but one customer discovered the hard way that ticket prices can go up three times in an hour.
Robert Hilbourne from Wallington phoned the Virgin TrainLine last Wednesday at 10.30 am to buy a day return ticket for his son Andrew to travel from Euston to Manchester for a University Open Day. Andrew was to travel a week later on the 3rd of March.
A Virgin clerk called Karen told him it was "£19 please"
That was at 10.30 am but, as Robert was about to give his credit card details. The line went dead, so he called back immediately.
Robert Hilbourne says "I asked to speak to Karen again in order to complete the unfinished transaction, but I was told by the new operator that I could not do that. And that I had to start the transaction again from the beginning."
This time the clerk was called Graham. It took about five minutes
to go through the details and by now it was 10.35 am. Graham told him the
price which was
Given an increase of £5 in 5 minutes, Robert asked to be put through to a supervisor, who agreed that £24 wasn't the right price and passed him back to Graham. The price had now risen to £27.50. There had been an increase of £8.50 in 15 minutes.
Robert Hilbourne said he wanted to complain, and Graham told him to ring the Virgin office in Birmingham. A supervisor there told Robert that prices were fixed by the Rail Regulator. He immediately rang the London Regional Passengers Committee who said it wasn't true.
Thoroughly confused and by now very annoyed, Robert Hilbourne called Virgin TrainLine for a third time. It was 11.15 am he still hadn't booked his son's day trip, but the price had gone up again to £32.
The reason for all this confusion is that there are 11 different fares available for Euston to Manchester at peak time weekdays. It's customer choice gone mad.
The cheapest, the one quoted to Robert Hilbourne at 10.30 am, is Virgin Value at £19.
The next fare at £24 is Virgin Value Two, which is the one quoted at 10.35 am. The Apex return at £27.50 was the 10.40 am offer, and the Super Advance at £32 was the version Robert Hilbourne finally bought.
If he'd waited any longer, he could have ended up with the Super Saver at £41, or the Saver at £48.20, or the Virgin Value First at £55, or the Virgin Value Business at £75.
Then there's the standard open return at £119, the Virgin Business Return at £170. And finally, also at £170, the first class First Open Return.
VIRGIN says that it's quite possible for the quota of cheap tickets to sell out in a few minutes. The operators are automatically shown the next lowest fare on their screens, and Robert Hilbourne was just unlucky that other people got there before him. VIRGIN won't say how many seats are sold at what prices. It varies from week to week.
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VIRGIN RAISES RAIL FARES BY 10pc AS SUBSIDY IS CUT
DAILY TELEGRAPH 25 September 1999
Virgin Trains, which has the worst punctuality record on the rail network, is to increase walk-on fares by almost 10 per cent, more than four times the underlying level of inflation.
An unrestricted standard class return from London to Manchester will cost £141 from tomorrow, a 44 per cent increase since the company took over the West Coast and Cross-Country franchises in 1997. Virgin said it reflected a 17 per cent cut in subsidy this year when it was having to start paying its £1 billion bill for new trains due to come into service in 2001. The Treasury's grant has fallen from £193 million in 1997-98 to £146 million this year.
The new fares, which affect first-class, Virgin Business and standard open passengers, are aimed primarily at business and peak travellers.
VIRGIN has increased passenger numbers by 20 per cent. Most extra demand is in off-peak travel, which the company has stimulated with cheap, pre-booked fares. A London-Manchester return can be as low as £20. A spokesman said: "We want to spread the demand and ensure peak trains are not absolutely packed with lots of passengers standing"
But the North West Rail Users Committee, the passenger watchdog,
The policy. A spokesman said: "It appears VIRGIN are seeking to price up what they perceive to be a captive market. We suspect that they are prepared to carry fewer passengers at higher prices on popular services."
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VIRGIN TRAINS BBC Watchdog 16 September 1999
Virgin Trains have issued a memo to all its travel agents and retailers, telling them not to sell one of their cheapest deals to customers going on single journeys.
The deal, called a VIRGIN VALUE RETURN TICKET, usually costs about half the price of a single fare.
So, customers going on single journeys could buy the return ticket and scrap the second half of the journey. After all, it could save them up to £30 or more - but VIRGIN don't want them to do that.
THIS IS AN EXTRACT FROM THAT MEMO:
"Retailers should endeavour not to sell VIRGIN VALUE RETURN TICKETS for single journeys even if they are cheaper than the available walk up single fare.
Retailers who book seats they know will not be used are depriving the next customer of the chance to purchase a reduced rate ticket we shall be closely monitoring ticket sales, and in particular VIRGIN VALUE sales. Retailers who persistently book phantom return journeys will be identified as part of this monitoring process."
WATCHDOG TESTED THE SYSTEM BY PHONING VIRGIN, AND ASKING ABOUT A
SINGLE JOURNEY FROM MANCHESTER TO EXETER.
The quote for the cheapest off peak fare was given as £52. In fact the cheapest fare is not £52 but £28.50 - which is the price for the VALUE RETURN TICKET.
The cheapest Birmingham to Newcastle single ticket was quoted as
In fact, the cheapest fare is £22 for a VALUE RETURN. When we inquired about a Carlisle to London fare, the cheapest price was £59.50, instead of £27. When we asked for a VALUE RETURN TICKET, our research team was told:
"We're not allowed to sell you a return ticket when it's a single journey that you've asked for. But if you were to go away and think about it and called us back with a return journey - we could do the booking for you."
IN TOTAL ABOUT HALF THE OPERATORS QUOTED US
THE SINGLE TICKET PRICE RATHER THAN THE FAR CHEAPER BARGAIN RETURN.
VIRGIN tell us that they acknowledge that the memo was not drafted well. The good news is that VIRGIN will be introducing reduced rate single tickets at the end of this month.