Trains, Planes and Automobiles
Monday, 28 February 2011
Yesterday I wrote a column complaining about train companies who mug people that get on the wrong train by hoiking fares to a ridiculous degree.
I mentioned that, due to a valiant comedian called Tom Wrigglesworth who took a stand on a Manchester-London train a year or so ago, Virgin Trains changed their policy and no longer ask for different fares on board a train than the ticket would have been in advance.
Having just attempted to book myself on the London-Manchester journey with Virgin (for the upcoming UKIPT poker tournament in Manchester), I feel I should add an addendum. Since I was phoning so far in advance, I thought I’d ask the price of doing it first class - as I said in the piece, I managed to get a first class return to Nottingham for £22 each way (until I got hijacked by surprise rules on the way back). Always worth asking. For London-Manchester and back, they said it was £70 total. That seemed pretty reasonable.
Just to ensure I didn’t make the same mistake as last time, I explained on the phone that I might get a different return train from the one I’d booked, but it would still be off-peak, so could I get an open return. They said sure. That would be £400.
Four hundred pounds! I pointed out I’d still be getting an off-peak train, taking up a seat in a half empty carriage (or totally empty, like it was from Nottingham). Yep, makes no difference. They don’t do flexible off-peak returns. There’s just the one flexible fare: £400.
Obviously that means I won’t travel first class. Fine, what difference, it’s just a couple of hours on a train. But how can anyone have dreamed up that fare in the first place? Four hundred pounds, to travel two hours from Manchester to London? It would be cheaper to do it in a taxi! Genuinely, it would. If you were a family of four, it would be cheaper to BUY A CAR and drive yourself. No wonder the first class carriages are always empty. Why do they bother having them at all? Anyone who’s rich enough and mad enough to pay four hundred quid for a train ticket is probably too posh even to sit on a train, and would be carried up and down the M6 on a sedan chair. Also, the poor business thinking annoys me. They could get £90 out of me if they charged a reasonable price. Since they don’t, they won’t get anything.
Then again I know I’m going to get slightly screwed, even going standard. I can’t know exactly when I’ll be coming home, one never does with poker tournaments. Of course it’s cheaper to buy the ticket on the day you know you’re going home than to pay for an extra night or two in a hotel while you wait for the train you booked. That means poker players (or anyone who’s travelling without knowing exactly when they’ll be able to come back, like someone going to a meeting without a fixed end point) are always going to get stuck with the highest price of ticket, because of the companies’ refusal to have any “true price” for the journey, only a range of fares that get higher all the time. Well done Virgin for not charging extra punitive fares for paying on board - but if they get round not doing that by simply saying the price is crazily high at the station as well…. well, it doesn’t really help the travellers. And it certainly doesn’t help the general attempt to get people out of cars and aeroplanes, and onto the railways.