Monday, 10 September 2012

How abusive are Virgin Trains?

I write this blog still smarting from an unpleasant experience yesterday on Virgin Trains, what I would call an abuse of power if I am stretching a point, when I had to pay twice for a train ticket from London Euston back to Macclesfield with my family.

Abuse of power is my day to day work as a child abuse lawyer. I have a very strong sense of justice, and dislike intensely the narrow administration of rules, bureaucracy, and lack of discretion in appropriate circumstances. I come across it daily in my dealings with Courts, and the Legal Services Commission. I now realise that with the growth of large faceless organisations, so comes an impersonal lack of kindness and sympathy.

Years ago, children were abused by those in power, went along with it, then spend years regretting their inaction, when invited to take part in sexual activities with an adult. They all wish they had been stronger, refused, and not gone along with his/her wishes. Thankfully, I am older, wiser, perhaps less patient, and was able to vent my spleen at the Virgin ticket inspector in question. Sadly it did me no good, and probably squashed any discretion which she may have been willing to endow. Quite honestly, I don't think that the word discretion appeared in her vocabulary.

I will tell you what happened.

It was a lovely weekend in London. We had seen the most amazing "Les Miserables" at the Queens Theatre, and stayed with friends. Somewhat tired we headed for Euston station. The traffic was appalling, it being the last day of the Paralympics. We missed the train by a minute!

We had booked an advance first class ticket which could not be changed. In naivety, it being a Sunday afternnoon, and not too busy I thought they may let us off? We decided to get the next train which was 20 minutes later. When I got to the barrier, I was met with a very stoney faced young ticket inspector. No plesantries,  just.

"You can't travel on this train you willl have to buy another ticket sir."
"How much?"
After machine twiddling "£194 for the three of you sir". I had paid just a little more than that for return tickets First Class.
"Is that the First Class price?"
"No sir, would you like to upgrade?" At that I got sarcastic, and told my wife, who was trying to calm me down, to let the ticket inspector rip us off because that was her job, and no wonder Virgin had lost the franchise. My wife pulled me away, and we got on the train.

We realised she had overcharged us by giving us a Manchester ticket. We sat in first class thinking another ticket inspector may let us off. Who should turn up? - the same officious young lady, wearing, I noticed, army boots. Who wears army boots in 30 degrees centrigade? Yes it was very hot too.

"Did you change your mind about the upgrade sir?"

I had deputised my wife to talk, as there was steam coming out of my ears. We paid the reduced price of £175, not the upgrade to First Class, and were asked if we needed help carrying our bags though 5 carriages out of First Class into economy. I was muttering that I enjoyed paying twice for one train journey, and would have been able to travel to Alicante for the same price with Easy Jet.

So that is the price you pay for being firstly angry, and secondly falling for a bargain. I have been travelling to London regularly for the last 18 years, and witnessed the price treble when Virgin took over. The food changed from a full silver service dinner to very small snack meal, then sandwiches. The service is usually good, but the profit maximised. I have seen the island which Branson owns in the Carribean. I think I have nearly paid for it.

I am sure my child abuse clients felt angry when abuse of power befell them, but in a much more serious way of course. I have got over my anger now, because I was able to give a little of what I got. Sadly, they never did, and regret it for the rest of their life.

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