one opportunity to shine ... missed

Another bit of dialogue between myself and one ...

Email to Customer Relations

Dear Sirs,

A quick enquiry as to your revenue protection strategy, otherwise known as fare enforcement.

For the past two weeks I’ve noticed a particularly irritating trend. Passengers boarding the train at Ipswich without tickets and then waiting for the conductor to ask them for a ticket before buying a single to Stowmarket … as the conductor takes time to do the rounds they are being asked to pay for their tickets just as the train arrives in Stowmarket. They then concoct a story about ‘are you sure that’s the price’ or similar and as this takes enough time they have to leave the train for their stop before a ticket can be issued. Even if they get their ticket, I can’t help but feel that should be charged a penalty fare.

I always understood that you need a ticket to travel, in fact, you should need at least a ticket-to-ride before stepping on to the platform (a so-called ‘compulsory ticket area’). On commuting lines in the south east and in many other areas there are revenue protection barriers – Colchester seems to be the last point on the one line where these are used. Surely improving your revenue protection will increase your income and enable you to invest in more station and service improvements? Why is it that idiots like those doing the shuttle-run to Stowmarket are so able to get away with cheating you out of revenue and (by implication) increasing the need to raise standard fares to compensate.

I know there is a cost implication for barriers – as a commuter on the South Eastern lines from Kent a few years ago, Connex produced a figure to show the cost per barrier and per member of staff to supervise these barriers. This cost I recall seemed more than manageable when taken into consideration with the fares being lost by customers evading them at unmanned stations or by duping the conductors such as is happening daily on one.

The occasional ‘show of force’ that one put in place every couple of months with inspections at Norwich and Ipswich stations does little to deter people. Again, the public know they could arrive at the station and just pay the fare with no penalty. If we all just ‘took a chance’ then we’d only ever have to pay 50% of the time and, even then, only to/from the nearest stations.

One is lagging far behind in modernising its practises. A new ‘virtual assistant’ on the website is going to do nothing to improve journeys on the line, more money in your coffers from dishonest travellers definitely would.

Please explain.

Yours sincerely,
John Gibbard

Email from Customer Relations
reference: 143988

Dear Mr Gibbard,

Thank you for your recent email.

Ticket inspection is carried out by Revenue Protection Inspectors (RPIs) on a 'spot check' basis - both at stations and on trains.

We do not aim to have an RPI on every train: indeed, it would not be cost effective to do so. However, the fact that we operate a Penalty Fare system and have automatic ticket gates at eight of our busiest stations is sufficient to deter a substantial amount of fraudulent travel. However I have passed you comments to the Revenue Protection Team based at Norwich who are responsible for this service.

Since 1992, the level of ticketless travel has been reduced from approximately 4% to about 1.2% - although this still represents a significant loss of revenue on an annual turnover of over £300m.

Although I am sure you will appreciate it is not possible to eliminate fraud altogether, all revenue protection data is analysed by computer so we can identify and target specific trains and stations where there is a higher risk of revenue loss. Also, we are always willing to follow up on specific reports from passengers who have believe that someone is travelling fraudulently. Such information is, of course, treated confidentially.

I hope these comments reassure you that we do make serious efforts to protect our revenue.

Yours sincerely,
xxxx, Customer Relations Advisor

Email to Customer Relations
Reference: 143988

xxxx, I'm afraid your response is rather disappointing. It appears you only read my email in a cursory manor and sent something like a stock response which read more like a corporate statement than an attempt to address specific concerns.

You, rather optimistically state: "the fact that we operate a Penalty Fare system and have automatic ticket gates at eight of our busiest stations is sufficient to deter a substantial amount of fraudulent travel" However my issue in the original mail was that the penalty fare was not being charged. When the conductor on the service discovers someone without a ticket they are invited to pay the standard open single fare and allowed to continue their journey. Whilst this is the most expensive fare it is, in the case of the travelers to Stowmarket I mentioned, just £3.20 and therefore hardly a deterrent. Likewise, there is little to stop me traveling to Norwich from Ipswich without a ticket and, on arrival at Norwich if presented with a spot-check, simply paying the price of a single from Diss. Granted I may be approached by a conductor on the train but it would pose no problem for me to ask for a ticket from the most recent station. The point I am trying to make is that every passenger should have a ticket before travel. If it is discovered they do not have one when already traveling they should be charged a penalty fare on top of the ticket price.

How much would it cost to install barriers at the mainline stops at Ipswich and Norwich? Ipswich has one major platform exit and that could easily be served by 6 barriers in the ticket hall. Norwich could have 4 or 5 per platform. As most people North of Colchester are traveling to these hub stations it makes perfect sense to install barriers here. Doing so would be a highly visible deterrent and make the opportunistic fraudulent traveler almost extinct. Granted, it would not solve the short-trip fraud I've witnessed in recent weeks between Ipswich and Stowmarket but it does send the signal that one are more serious about ticketless travel.
John Gibbard

Email from Customer Relations
Reference: 143988
Dear Mr Gibbard

Thank your for you email, although I am sorry if you were disappointed with my response.

Although my reply was certainly the company stance regarding Revenue Protection, I can assure you that we do take concerns such as those you raised very seriously. I also stated in my reply that I would send a copy of your e mail to the Revenue Protection Team at Norwich responsible for the route.

You are right when you state that to travel, a valid ticket should be held (with a few exceptions applicable ie unmanned stations). As a company it is certainly in ours and fare paying passengers interests to maintain a constant revue as to how effective our current methods of revenue collection are. Although any alteration in the scheme that we currently operate would have to be agreed by the Strategic Rail Authority.

Once again. I can confirm that your concerns have been forwarded to the relevant department and thank you for contacting me.

Kind regards

Email to Customer Relations
reference: 143988


Once again I appreciate you taking the time to write to me and once again I have to smile at your complete avoidance of the issue of penalty fares. My point is simply that your policy (which, if you are unfamiliar is available on your website at http://www.onerailway.com/contents/download/penalty-fares.pdf) states that you'll be charged a penalty fare "if you travel on a penalty fare train from a penalty fare station without a valid ticket for your entire rail journey, ‘Permit to Travel’ or other authorisation." I have since discovered from this that the section from Ipswich to Norwich is not a penalty fare route. This answers my question and would have been the simplest way to rebut my response. Of course, it does raise another question, "why is this route not a Penalty Fare route?" and I believe you may have answered this in a previous email with some reference to statistics on fare avoidance/evasion.

It might surprise you to know xxxx, that you can not know how many people are travelling without tickets on this section of the line as by virtue of the fact they are avoiding fares they avoid any opportunity for 'one' to collect statistics - no-one from 'one' is standing at Norwich or on the train saying "no ticket? Ok, thanks for letting us know, I'll note that down for our statistics".

So, to finish up, I re-assert that 'one' are incompetently missing a trick by not being diligent with revenue protection in the apparently 'lawless' wilds of North Suffolk and Norfolk. Combine this with my earlier correspondence surrounding a fire on the train in May, the broken air conditioning, regular delays and rolling stock from the 1970s and you've got an over-priced shambolic regional train operator that no-one in this region has any right to be proud of.

Don't worry xxxx, I'm not after a response as I think I've pretty much exhausted the talents of your customer liaison team and will revert to writing to other people to moan about why the burgers in McDonalds don't resemble the pictures and why my Blue Nun comes with a screw top and not a cork. I'm sure you'll understand how busy this keeps me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They should have answered your specific points, but you could have made it more explicit. Whenever I write a letter of complaint I always number the paragraphs so that:

a. Each point stands out clearly as requiring an answer
b. It's easy to reference the points once you've made them without getting wrapped up in long, wordy paragraphs

I'm being picky when I say that you could have been more explicit because your letters are perfectly clear. But sometimes the people answering stuff like this need to be reminded that it's not their agenda which is important when it comes to customer service and complaints.

Your two main areas of query relate to:

1. Why they don't have barriers on the platforms
2. Why they don't deal more harshly with fare dodgers

Neither has been answered. But fundamentally this is annoying because XXthe respondentXX has completely failed to project any sense of human to human interaction, or genuine interest in what you are saying. Basically her responses have been bland, corporate and soulless.

If I was you I'd just stop buying your tickets, carry a half empty bottle of blue Nun with you whenever you're on the train and plead drunkenness if challenged by a conductor.