Friday, March 14, 2008

How my train company made me feel special

A couple of weeks ago, for reasons too complex/embaressing to go into, I temporarily mislaid my train pass, and had to buy a couple of day returns to London while my application for a duplicate was being processed (or rather, while I was filling in the form, which was long and obscure and took two days). The form stated that any tickets I purchased whilst without my train pass would be reimbursed by my local station on collection of the new pass. All that was neccessary was to present the used ticket - and only the original ticket would do, not a receipt - at the window. What a commendable system, I thought - proper joined-up thinking.

My local station has actually been going through quite a lot of positive changes recently. They've moved the chap selling newspapers and chewing gum from his kiosk by the entrance to a proper shop on platform 2, there are new ticket machines which even work, and also new ticket barriers - proper ones like you get on the Tube in London. The idea of these, in addition to keeping fare-dodgers from escaping (and what a terrible fate for such a petty criminal- to suddenly find that you are trapped on the railway network, never to escape, unable to pass through the portals at stations to the outside world and doomed to wander aimlessly up and down the railways for the rest of eternity), is to ease the traffic problems caused by crowds of people pouring off the trains at peak times and all trying to fit through the one exit at once. Whether this objective has been fulfilled or not is a moot point (like Ben Elton said when the M25 was widened, if you got a new kitchen bin, you'd soon just have two full bins and not two less full ones) but they look good and make us feel all smug and with it compared to people in Letchworth. But there is one fundamental disadvantage if you want to claim back the cost of your ticket.

The machines are designed/programmed so that they know when a ticket has reached the end of its useful life and swallow it. So if, for example, you have bought a return ticket which has completed its Odyssey, it takes it in and does not give it back.

You see my problem?

When I went to the window to hand in my duplicate claim form and reclaim the money for my tickets, I found that I had no ticket to claim with. And of course my receipt could not be accepted as "proof of purchase" (what better prooof could there be?) so I found myself upwards of forty quid out of pocket when I should only have been under half that.The poor kid behind the desk was utterly bemused by the time we had finished sorting out my photocard, and actually put his head in his hands when I explained that I didn't have the originals because the machine at his own station had swalllowed it. In the end, he rallied impressively, advising me to write to customer services, and kindly to get out of his hair (words to that effect). I went home and wrote a rather sheepish letter to the company explaining the situation, confessing that I am a bit of an idiot for losing the thing in the first place, but felt the state of affairs with the machines was a bit ridiculous, am a good customer, etc etc.

There is a happy ending too. After three weeks with no word, I had more or less given up, when a shiny new envelope emblazoned with a First Capital Connect logo landed on my doormat. Cracking it open without much expectation, I was surprised to find a "travel voucher" for the equivalent amount to my two tickets, entitling me to money off my next purchase. The tone of the accompanying letter was rather sanctimonious, which grated a bit, but nonetheless I felt it was a triumph for the little guy against the faceless corporate bureaucrats. Fight the power, etc etc.

Next week, JD takes on Transport for London over the appalling congestion problems in the bus lanes at Euston. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

If anybody is reading this . . .

It's Thursday night at ten past ten. I've had two glasses of wine - something of a rarity for me - and The Wife had just retired to bed, to join The Little Commuter in what my primary school teacher would call the Land of Nod (and I hope Nod doesn't mind them trespassing). I am sitting at my computer and have just noticed that the picture of my baby boy that is currently lying on the desk waiting for someone to give it a proper home has a moustache of cat hairs, giving the impression that my son is, in fact, one of the three Musketeers (Aramis, I'd guess).

Anyway, I have had absolutely no time to update the blog recently. Fatherhood has taken over my life, as it surely had to, and when I've not been with The Little Commuter I have been attempting to lavish some attention on his mother and the cat, who has adapted with great fortitude to slipping down the pecking order. She is not deprived or negelected, just a bit less pampered. But she seems to appreciate us that much more as a result, so perhaps there's a moral in there somewhere.

The trains have been extremely busy, even with me going in earlier. Sitting down on board is something I contemplate with a certain sense of cynicism, as opposed to my previous misty-eyed optimism. I did have an amusing experience recently when I tried to claim a refund of some tickets I had bought whilst my Season Ticket was missing, only to find that they would not refund receipts, only the originals, which had been swallowed by the swanky new ticket machines. It was all very funny. I shall have to write about it at some point when I'm more coherent.

In the meantime, thansk for reading my inane ramblings. I hope to update the blog properly soon.