In Which I Lose Faith In FGW

Over the weekend I traveled to Exeter and back by train. On Sunday night I stopped off in Darkest Somerset to see my mother, resuming my journey today. This is something I have done many times before without trouble. Today, however, when my ticket was inspected on my way to Bristol, the conductor’s face took on the smarmy air of someone who had found an excuse to torment a helpless victim and extort money. According to him, because I had broken my journey overnight, the rest of my ticket was forfeit and I’d have to buy a new one.

Note that I said this is something I have done before, on a variety of journeys. Not once have I been told that breaking my journey overnight is not allowed. No one has ever said they are letting me off this time, but please buy the correct ticket next time. What’s more, I had described my journey plans in detail when I bought the ticket. The guy who sold it to me needed to make sure that I was eligible for an off-peak ticket, and wanted to check that I would not be resuming my travel today before 9:30am. I was impressed with how helpful he had been.

None of this impressed my conductor today. As far as he was concerned, I was traveling illegally on an invalid ticket. Things became much clearer when he was joined by a colleague with a badge saying “Revenue Protection Officer”. Obviously some sort of passenger bullying operation was going on. That extended not just to looking for people traveling without tickets, but to finding any excuse possible to demand more money. (And enjoying throwing their weight around in doing it.)

Not wishing to have to explain myself to the police at Bristol, I paid using my Amex card. I phoned them when I got home, and they said they’d be happy to help me dispute the charge. That, however, doesn’t worry me too much. I’m far more concerned about what this means for traveling on FGW services.

I put up with a lot from FGW. There are the persistent late running trains and cancellations. There’s the massive overcrowding, especially at weekends. There’s the ongoing issue of people blocking seats with their bags, or by sitting in the aisle, which train crews generally won’t do anything about. And of course the annual above-inflation fare rises. I put up with all of this because I believe in trains and like to ride them when I can. Today’s incident has changed all that, at least as far as FGW is concerned.

To start with, it is clear evidence that FGW will not honour a ticket sold to a passenger on the advice of their own staff. That has to be worrying, especially given how complex the fare system has become. So from now on I’ll have no confidence in my ability to buy a ticket for a journey that involves a change of trains, or a break of journey, in case having my ticket stamped by another conductor is again taken as evidence of fraud on my part. Nor will I buy cheap advance tickets as I can’t trust advice given as to which services I can use them on.

Furthermore, my local station is often unstaffed, and there are no ticket machines. In the past I have bought a ticket on the train, or on arrival. Now I have no confidence that some zealous conductor won’t accuse me of failing to buy a ticket before boarding and charge me a penalty fare, so I won’t travel unless I can buy a ticket first.

Finally I won’t encourage other people to travel on FGW trains. A lot of my author friends are coming over here for the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. I’d been suggesting that some of them might do some touristing around here. But foreign visitors who don’t know the system are easy prey for train conductors looking to extort money, so I’m not going to recommend that anyone travel on FGW lines.

Of course I’m a bit stuck for alternatives, so I may have to use the trains a bit in the near future. Fortunately I can get to London on South West Trains services (cheaper too, but much less frequent). But I am now looking to buy a car, which makes me very sad.

Well done, FGW. Your “revenue protection” scheme has netted you £18.10 in extra fares. It has also cost you a loyal customer, and thousands of pounds in future revenues. Was that what you had in mind when you came up with the idea?

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10 Responses to In Which I Lose Faith In FGW

  1. Zander says:

    Public transport is (at least if run and supported properly) a way for poor people to get around. It stands to reason therefore that the government (which is monolithically Tory and capitalist) are against it, whatever noises they may make to appease the Greens, and in awarding contracts for the privatised services they will have favoured companies who will duly mishandle and break the service wherever possible, so that people will be forced to use cars and thus pay for petrol, insurance and other taxable necessities. Or, of course, sit quietly in their homes and wait for the euthanasia squads.

    Embittered? Moi?

  2. I’m not sure if your statement that “Public transport is … a way for poor people to get around,” is meant to be taken exclusively, in the sense of only for poor people. Unfortunately, I’ve found that people on both the ideological left and right believe that. There are both liberal and conservative people who take it for granted that Transit Is Exclusively For the Poor,” I utterly reject this position. A well-run public transit system should be for everyone.

  3. Zander says:

    I absolutely agree with you. Public transport should be for rich and poor. Private transport, on the other hand, is by its nature, generally speaking, restricted to those above a certain level of income, which, by a process of elimination, leaves public transport as the only option for those below that level. That’s what I meant.

  4. Tom Coady says:

    I wish I could say I was surprised at the FGW overnight break rule as it always annoys me that single fares typically cost the same as returns, and that returns are usually only valid for one day.

    As far as I know this insane policy harks back to the days of the relatively harmless but under-loved British Rail, but the antiquity of this anomaly doesn’t justify its inequity or continuity.

  5. Jo Hall says:

    I’ve had this problem a couple of times with different operating companies,(not FGW), including one incident where I had to leave the train a stop early and scrounge a lift, and one where we were travelling back from King’s Lynn and got as far as London before we were told the train company had given us the wrong tickets and we had to pay an extra £60 to get home or be stranded in London, and the station staff were so horrible about it they made me cry :( The trouble is the ticketing system is too complicated, and it’s really hard to tell if you’ve got the right ticket. If the conductor or whoever decides your ticket is wrong once you’re on the train, there’s nothing whatsoever you can do about it.

    • Cheryl says:

      Yeah. Kevin, who follows UK train news far more closely than I do, tells me that this sort of incident is commonplace all over the network. But I refuse to admit that there is nothing that can be done.

  6. Tom Coady says:

    Excellent point Jo

    The system is so complex even the online ticketing systems often fail to find me a realistically priced ticket even well in advance.

    Furthermore the ticket vendors employed by the company often fail to offer the cheapest fare. When this is pointed out they pretend to know that the restrictive return conditions are incompatible with my intentions which they fail to enquire about.

    • Cheryl says:

      I’d like to note that not all FGW staff are unhelpful. My local staff in Trowbridge know me well and have on occasion given me excellent advice about cheap tickets. The conductor who sold me the ticket on Friday also tried hard to get me the cheapest fare. Unfortunately this doesn’t help if FGW also employs people who think that having a uniform gives them the right to throw their weight around as they see fit. And if the management institutes a programme that encourages such behavior in the name of “revenue protection” things go rapidly downhill.

  7. Dave H (@BCCletts) says:

    1) a written or e-mail complaint to FGW customer services, which if it does not satisfy your complaint, can then be formally referred to Passenger Focus (you can cc them on first complaint but they won’t wade in until FGW have opportunity to explain themselves.

    2) contact Penalty Fare Advice Service (PFAS) to initiate a claim

    3) just to make sure, do you still have the tickets? Does it say SVR or OFF-PEAK on the ticket.

    If it is a normal off-peak (SVR) ticket it should have the valid date for the return half 1 month later than the date of purchase (outward travel). I understand that the normal expectation is that you may break a journey but are required to complete the broken journey over a period of 48 hours.

    It sounds as if the RPO doesn’t know the ticket validity – if your tickets are normal off-peak tickets on that route HOWEVER in the Network SE area, to control potential for fraud, return tickets are only valid for the day of issue (it normally applies to journeys of under 50 miles IIRC) and those are not SVR but standard and off-peak fares for the journey made.

    • Cheryl says:

      They confiscated the return half of the ticket. The outward half says OFF-PEAK.
      I’m waiting on feedback from Barry Doe, who I am assured knows the validity rules better than anyone.

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