“Please help me persuade First Great Western Railway to provide a clear policy on travelling using group save tickets with bicycles” – Benjamin Nickolls

Description

Benjamin Nickolls

Myself a group of 14 other cyclists were refused the sale of group save tickets as we travelled home, throughout the day, in groups of four on Sunday 22nd July.

I have requested a refund from the MD of First Great Western, the train service provider for the cost of the full-price tickets we were required to purchase. I also have evidence of the fact we travelled together and under the conditions of a group save discount without issue on the next service.

These members of staff need some training as it is not the operators policy to refuse sale of tickets in this situation.

Problem History

  • 1 Benjamin Nickolls reported the issue on FixMyTransport. close 00:18 25 Jul 2012
  • 2 Benjamin Nickolls wrote to First Great Western Railway close 00:18 25 Jul 2012

    Here is the letter that Benjamin Nickolls wrote.

    Ticket Office Staff Poorly Informed

    Myself a group of 14 other cyclists were refused the sale of group save tickets as we travelled home, throughout the day, in groups of four on Sunday 22nd July.

    I have requested a refund from the MD of First Great Western, the train service provider.

    These members of staff need some training as it is not the operators policy to refuse sale of tickets in this situation.

  • 3 Benjamin Nickolls commented close 00:22 25 Jul 2012

    Obviously, I'm requesting a refund on the full price tickets we purchased.

  • 4 First Group Response responded to Benjamin Nickolls close 00:23 25 Jul 2012
    Thank you for contacting First Great Western. We confirm receipt of your e-mail and aim to forward a full response within 5 working days. If you have a more urgent issue that needs resolving please telephone on 08457 000125 where we will try to give a faster resolution.

    Please note that you will not be able to reply direct to this email, however if you wish to contact us further by email then please use the address below.

    [email address]
  • 5 Duncan Parkes commented close 20:45 25 Jul 2012

    This is certainly not a universal policy across train companies. On the return journey from the Dunwich Dynamo a couple of weeks ago, the Greater Anglia trains had far more cyclists than this, and they happily sold us tickets in groups of four - in fact they may even have suggested it.

  • 6 Benjamin Nickolls commented close 23:41 29 Jul 2012

    Still no comment from FGW here or elsewhere. Failing.

  • 7 Benjamin Nickolls commented close 23:42 29 Jul 2012

    Still no reply here or on email directly. Failing.

  • 8 Benjamin Nickolls commented close 17:33 06 Aug 2012

    Again no reply directly, I will leave my full letter here which was sent originally on 24th July:

    Mr. Hopwood

    I have been organising, supporting and partaking in cycling events for the last five years. I run a club every other Tuesday evening from London to the home counties, taking a train from one of the main, central stations and enjoying what our glorious countryside has to offer. We ride to Roydon and Welyn Garden City at regular intervals using your services to get there and, by taking advantage of the groupsave discount available, have made the club accessible for everyone regardless of income or ability. For the last three years we have travelled in such a way with not a single problem and for that, I thank you. In fact, if you enjoy riding a bike we would love to have you along some time.

    I do however, regretfully, have to inform you that on Sunday 22nd June your otherwise exceptional standard of customer service was not upheld. I organised an annual 'deluxe' tour from London to Bath Spa, taking a group of 15 from Farnborough station to Bath Spa, overnight, arriving at 7.30am on Sunday morning.

    Knowing that some would take the train immediately, some would enjoy themselves at the spa and others would want to stay for the whole day I took the decision not to pre-book tickets and instead, recommend that people travel in groups of four and use the groupsave discount in order to make the return journey accessible for the younger and less monied among the group.

    Our ride went without hitch, we had great weather and an enjoyable breakfast in town, after which a small group left to go their various ways both in town and back on the train to London without issue. The remaining bunch decided to enjoy themselves at the spa, as arranged. After which a group decided to take the train home and forgo watching our new, british Tour de France champion stand atop the podium, at a local pub. It later transpired they had the same problem we had, later that day:

    Upon arrival at Bath Spa station I requested a groupsave 4 discount for our group of four, each with a single bike. At which point we were flatly refused the sale at the counter. On begging the obvious question we were told that, due to the fact we have four bikes, they did not believe we would travel together. I explained that I was aware of he conditions of carriage and that I would be due a fine and/or liable for the cost of a full ticket were I to travel independent of the group and that, were there no room for bikes in the guards carriage, we would await the next service. Still a flat refusal to sell the ticket from both Augistine and Kudzi who were manning the ticket area.

    I asked to speak to a manager who repeated the remarks of the two gentlemen selling tickets, after hearing our conversation I suspect. I asked the manager Sam whether this was a policy issue as I have travelled this way or years (as I describe above). He proclaimed that the policy was not to sell groupsave tickets to those with bikes as there was a chance there would be no room for them on the service. I repeated that I understood the conditions of carriage for a groupsave ticket and that we would only travel together if our bikes could be carried safely in the guards carriage. Again a blunt refusal to sell the tickets.

    I decided to speak to your customer services department, they were unable to see any reason why they could not sell me a ticket and were happy to sell me one with the only regret that we would have to wait 2 hours for the system to update terminals in the station. I asked wether the representative would speak to the till manager Sam who bluntly refused to speak to his colleague on the phone. Instead he walked off, in mid conversation, to the safety of his office. He later returned with a phone upon which he asked me to speak to another advisor on the other end. Being a reasonable person I took the phone and spoke with another representative who repeated the argument of the ticket staff. Explaining myself for the third time the colleague said that we were not guaranteed a place on any of the trains that day for our bikes, therefore he was not prepared to sell us a ticket and neither were the staff in the ticket hall. I asked the next logical question, whether he or anyone else could tell me whether there was space in the guard's carriage for our bikes on any service that day. No was the answer, the systems don't permit it.

    So we had been refused the sale of a ticket on the basis that there was a chance we wouldn't be able to use it. A chance that exists for every single service you operate, from every origin to any destination in the land. Be it due to natural disaster, act of stupidity by an individual or mechanical failing there is no way to guarantee that I can travel on any service. I imagine that is why you have a returns procedure, a delays procedure and why travel insurers exist. To add insult to injury our friends who had travelled earlier, upon receiving the same story and arguing their case were in fact sold a groupsave ticket and travelled an hours later than intended with their bikes in tow. But let's not digress.

    My three friends and I agreed that we would pursue this further with yourself, collected the names of the individuals at the station and the station manager Peter Rignall (who wasn't able to assist us in the station that day), purchased full price tickets and travelled without issue on the 1743 from Bath Spa to London Paddington, together, with our bikes stored safely and securely, with the permission of the train manager, in the guard's carriage.

    I have included photographic copies of the tickets we were sold and them stamped, using the same stamp (see alpha-numerical ID) to prove that we travelled, without issue and by the terms of carriage that apply to groupsave 4 tickets, after being refused service at the ticket hall.

    Now, I am aware of the situation regarding train transportation in this country. I am aware of the demarcation (or lack thereof) of responsibility between service providers, track owners and station managers. I work with mySociety, a charity that runs fixmytransport.com which helps people file complaints of this kind (which I shall issue in due course) and I am also a reasonable human being.

    I would like you, the managing director of one of the biggest train operators in the country, to apologise to our group, to assist us in understanding why this situation came to pass, provide us with evidence of policy on the matter and assure us that the members of staff in the ticket hall that day have been spoken to with regard to their lack in customer service skills and this particular policy. I would also like a means of repeating this or a similar length journey (or value of ticket) in the future, for all 15 members of our group.

    Finally I offer you an opportunity: to go one better, for you or a member of your executive staff to partake in one of our rides, using your services and using our group to the advantage of your PR. I have honestly, never had trouble of this sort on your services and was genuinely surprised by what happened.

    I just want to ensure that our group is remunerated and that, in the future, through clear policymaking or your personal support we can once again enjoy what this beautiful country has to offer on a bike and rest assured we will be taken care of on the way home.

    I look forward to reading your response.

    Thanks

    Ben

  • 9 Dave H commented close 08:42 07 Aug 2012

    Bike reservations are psuedo seat reservations, and advance bike reservation, and seat reservation, up to 00.00 that day is delivered by the National Rail computer system, to the TOC so that on the day of travel the reservations are issued by the TOC to suit their seat reservation regime, printing seat tags, loading on the on-train displays etc and holding on their system to offer to passngers using a booking office.

    Bike reservations are a bodged job delivered by creating a dummy seating zone with seats which are bike spaces. However, issuing such 'seat reservations' goes against the system rules because you are only allowed one seat reservation per ticket, and thus the staff have to be trained in how to override the system's protesting error messages and issue you with a seat reservation for the 'seat' used by your bike. It appears from reports that many staff do not know how to do this or are unwilling to do it, but on East Coast and West Coast they reckon to be able to book you and your bike , or your seat as little as 10 minutes before the train rolls in if that space is available. If you try using the call centres we find that several will advise no spaces available, whilst some are easily able to find spaces, notably Scotrail who have to manually process their London-Fort William seated overnight tickets - as you need 4 'seat' reservations with one travel ticket, when travelling with a bike, and the computer certianly doesn't like that.

    For advance booking on-line, the software used by East Coast - in my opinion by far superior to the ageing derivatives from the Trainline/QJump and recent alternatives - has actually got the facility to reserve cycles so it is not impossible

    Cross Country has had a reportedly successful trial of an i-phone/android application that enables a passenger to enjoy that 10 minute check and access for a seat booking from their mobile device. I've asked them if bike reservations can be included. The potential for other TOC's to follow suite is there, but I suspect there is a glitch whihc requires you to actually buy a ticket before you can find out whether you can use it (one for the OFT or Competition Commission to get everything bogged down with?) and we must ask why there isn't a national standard. This was highlighted when the driving data in the CRS system collapsed after a major upgrade on December 25th 2004, taking more than 6 months for the replacement NRS to get to grips with seat, sleeper, cycle and advance purchase interventions. The struggle to grapple with this less than ideal operation continues with individual efforts occasionally making progress.

    You are fortunate with FGW that they retain a commonsense position of accepting cycles without a reservation if the space is available, simply because of the problems of getting the reservation system to work.

    For long distance travel we have secured an EU directive through the third railway package of legislation

    Regulation 1371/2007 “All trains, including international and high-speed trains, shall provide, where appropriate for a fee, a specially designated area enabling passengers to bring on to the train baby carriages, wheelchairs, bicycles and sports equipment.”

    There is a 15 year derogation period, and national exemption options for local/commuter trains, but it is there in black & white.

    It does pose a thorny question - since 1977 we have had free cycle carriage on trains, variously with and without a reservation fee, and providing a free or paid for cycle ticket might resolve the reservation issue, as well as showing just how important cycle carriage is to off-peak rail services.

    Typically London CTC cyclists make 2-4 rail assisted group rides every Sunday, with up to 20 cycles not uncommon, and delivering a boost of 60-80% to the passenger numbers on some trains from the counts I've asked people to report. Typically off peak carriage on key routes runs at 10% of passengers with cycles, and on commuter trains at weekends (ie with wide gangways and space for standing passengers) up to 30 bikes comfortably travel on a 3 coach train.

    The serious need for rail operators to understand and manage the major market for combining cycling with rail is a complete blind spot for many operators, yet in terms of reliable and fast journeys the combination of cycling and rail delivers faster end to end journeys at a far lower cost and shorter lead time than the £ millions spent on shaving a few minutes from the train journey time.

    So please do count up the passengers and the bikes, and the type of train, and we can show by example that this needs attention. As an example, commuters from Bristol out to Avonmouth and North Filton take bikes on the train as there is no viable way to provide onward bus services to the places they work. Up to 17 bikes (conventional and folding) travelled on the 2-coach 102-seat trains, approaching 50% of the passengers heading out against the main commuter flow, and this was the potential with all the potential problems and risk of not getting on the train.

  • 10 FGW Customer Relations responded to Benjamin Nickolls close 23:47 09 Aug 2012
    First Great Western
    Customer Services Team
    FREEPOST
    SWB40576
    Plymouth
    PL4 6ZZ

    Tel: 08457 000 125
    Fax: 08456 008 363
    [First Great Western Railway problem reporting email]

    www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk

    Ref: 6655062

    Dear Mr Nickolls

    Thank you for your email of 25 July 2012 via FixMyTransport.com. I was sorry to read that you have had trouble purchasing tickets as group of cyclists at Bath Spa station.

    I note you advise that you have contacted our Managing Director, his office advise me as yet nothing has been received. If you would like to either resend, or alternatively forward details to me via the above address I would be happy to investigate this complaint on his behalf.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.

    Yours sincerely

    Oliver Evans
    Customer Relations

    *** Your feedback is really important to us so we would be very grateful for a couple of moments of your time to complete our customer satisfaction survey. If you would like to participate, please click on the link below. ***

    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=1M...

    First Greater Western Limited. Registered in England & Wales No. 05113733.
    Registered office: Milford House, 1 Milford Street, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN1 1HL.

    First Rail Holdings Limited. Registered in England No. 5154485. Registered office: 50 Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington, London W2 6LG.

    This message is confidential. It may not be disclosed to, or used by, anyone other than the addressee. If you receive this message in error, please advise us immediately.

    Internet email is not necessarily secure. First does not accept responsibility for changes to any email which occur after the email has been sent. Attachments to this email could contain software viruses which could damage your system. First have checked the attachments for viruses before sending, but you should virus-check them before opening.

    For more information on our range of services or to book your tickets online, please visit:- http://www.firstgroup.com
  • 11 Benjamin Nickolls wrote to FGW Customer Relations close 11:39 13 Aug 2012

    Oliver

    Thanks for your message. You can find my complete (and open) message to your MD at the following URL:

    http://www.fixmytransport.com/campaigns/provide-a-clear-policy-on-travelling#e14669

    I would appreciate it if you could provide an answer in public to this email address which will publish to fixmytransport.com

    Many thanks

    Ben

    -----Original Message-----

    First Great Western
    Customer Services Team
    FREEPOST
    SWB40576
    Plymouth
    PL4 6ZZ

    Tel: 08457 000 125
    Fax: 08456 008 363
    [First Great Western Railway problem reporting email]

    www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk

    Ref: 6655062

    Dear Mr Nickolls

    Thank you for your email of 25 July 2012 via FixMyTransport.com. I was sorry to read that you have had trouble purchasing tickets as group of cyclists at Bath Spa station.

    I note you advise that you have contacted our Managing Director, his office advise me as yet nothing has been received. If you would like to either resend, or alternatively forward details to me via the above address I would be happy to investigate this complaint on his behalf.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.

    Yours sincerely

    Oliver Evans
    Customer Relations

    *** Your feedback is really important to us so we would be very grateful for a couple of moments of your time to complete our customer satisfaction survey. If you would like to participate, please click on the link below. ***

    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=1MYjF0kJVkeM0_2fyAP79_2feA_3d_3d

    First Greater Western Limited. Registered in England & Wales No. 05113733.
    Registered office: Milford House, 1 Milford Street, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN1 1HL.

    First Rail Holdings Limited. Registered in England No. 5154485. Registered office: 50 Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington, London W2 6LG.

    This message is confidential. It may not be disclosed to, or used by, anyone other than the addressee. If you receive this message in error, please advise us immediately.

    Internet email is not necessarily secure. First does not accept responsibility for changes to any email which occur after the email has been sent. Attachments to this email could contain software viruses which could damage your system. First have checked the attachments for viruses before sending, but you should virus-check them before opening.

    For more information on our range of services or to book your tickets online, please visit:- http://www.firstgroup.com

  • 12 Benjamin Nickolls added an update close 11:40 13 Aug 2012

    I have responded to Oliver, asking that he respond publicly and openly here on fixmytransport.com

  • 13 First Group Response responded to Benjamin Nickolls close 11:45 13 Aug 2012
    Thank you for contacting First Great Western. We confirm receipt of your e-mail and aim to forward a full response within 5 working days. If you have a more urgent issue that needs resolving please telephone on 08457 000125 where we will try to give a faster resolution.

    Please note that you will not be able to reply direct to this email, however if you wish to contact us further by email then please use the address below.

    [email address]
  • 14 FGW Customer Relations responded to Benjamin Nickolls close 12:25 20 Aug 2012
    First Great Western
    Customer Services Team
    FREEPOST
    SWB40576
    Plymouth
    PL4 6ZZ

    Tel: 08457 000 125
    Fax: 08456 008 363
    [First Great Western Railway problem reporting email]

    www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk

    Ref: FGW 6682507

    Dear Ben

    Thank you for your further correspondence. I can confirm that you letter to Mark Hopwood has not been received and so I hope that you will be happy for me to reply.

    I was sorry to learn of the difficulties that you experienced at Bath Spa when wishing to purchase Group Save 4 tickets for you and your group to travel with your cycles to London Paddington on 22 June.

    As you are aware, the terms and conditions of the Group Save Tickets are that the group must travel together at all times. We should not have refused to sell you the tickets and this is something that we will be following up with the Station Manager.

    I was pleased to see that you were able to travel as a group with your bikes on our 17:43 service and I am sorry that you were charged more for your tickets than you had expected. I am unable to view the photographic copies of your tickets and so I would be grateful if you would send these to me so that I may arrange to reimburse you the difference in the fares paid.

    You can either send them to me at the above address, marking your correspondence for my attention, or attach them as a scan to an email and send them to me directly at [email address]. Please remember to include your full postal address to enable me to send this out to you as I currently only have this email address as a point of contact.

    I am grateful to you for bringing the matter to my attention and for allowing me an opportunity to respond. I look forward to hearing from you again soon.

    Yours sincerely

    Mark Webber
    Customer Relations Senior Officer

    *** Your feedback is really important to us so we would be very grateful for a couple of moments of your time to complete our customer satisfaction survey. If you would like to participate, please click on the link below. ***

    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=1M...

    First Great Western Limited. Registered in England & Wales No. 05113733.
    Registered office: Milford House, 1 Milford Street, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN1 1HL.

    First Rail Holdings Limited. Registered in England No. 5154485. Registered office: 50 Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington, London W2 6LG.

    This message is confidential. It may not be disclosed to, or used by, anyone other than the addressee. If you receive this message in error, please advise us immediately.

    Internet email is not necessarily secure. First does not accept responsibility for changes to any email which occur after the email has been sent. Attachments to this email could contain software viruses which could damage your system. First have checked the attachments for viruses before sending, but you should virus-check them before opening.

    For more information on our range of services or to book your tickets online, please visit:- http://www.firstgroup.com
  • 15 Myf Nixon commented close 16:31 20 Aug 2012

    Good result!

    anorak
    admin
  • 16 Benjamin Nickolls commented close 16:06 01 Oct 2012

    I have, a /mere/ 10 weeks after the incident described above, received an email promising a refund of the difference in the cost of the tickets and 4 additional standard class tickets for use on any similar length FGW service.

    I am not aware, however, of any explicit guidance regarding the issue of groupsave tickets for cyclists either on the conditions of carriage or terms and conditions for ticket use.

    Meh.

  • 17 Benjamin Nickolls commented close 10:33 23 Oct 2012

    I have today received a cheque for the difference in the cost of the tickets plus four standard class tickets for use on any FGW service in the next 12 months. While I'm happy with this as an outcome personally I've received no guarantee that the individuals concerned were retrained regarding this matter and reprimanded for their insulting behaviour behind the desk at Bath Spa station.

    A 50% result in my opinion.

Comment
  • started 24 July 2012
  • supporters 11
Bath Spa Rail Station in Bath operated by First Great Western Railway
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