Another Gatwick Express rip-off

Friday 25th October 2019

Spoiler alert: the postman delivered a National Rail Voucher for £6.70 this morning.

IMG_1565.jpgI wrote about the outrageous rip-off fares policy on the Gatwick Express back in May, but the other day I came across another pricing scandal from this past-its-sell-by-date train brand.

I was buying a ticket in the Gatwick Express run ticket office in the station at the Airport and was astounded to see not only was I being compulsorily overcharged by 50% for my journey but a member of staff gave me incorrect information that that overcharge was correct.

It was back on Friday 4th October and I was heading down to Cornwall for the weekend having already purchased an advanced ticket online from GWR between Reading and Bodmin Parkway returning from Truro to Paddington on Sunday 6th October.

Due to no trains running south of Three Bridges on the Sunday (so much for February’s 9-day Brighton Main Line blockade meaning no further major closures for weekend engineering works this year) I decided to drive to, and park at, Gatwick Airport for the weekend and take the train from there to Reading.

IMG_1547.jpgSo I arrived in the very busy ticket hall at about 08:30 in good time to catch the 09:03 GWR operated departure via Guildford to Reading. As always there was a long queue at the ticket office windows, but there’s a whole bank of ticket vending machines (TVMs) available and I soon reached the head of the queue for those and began my screen pressing.

IMG_1564.jpgThere were two options for an off-peak single ticket to Reading; an “any permitted” which would allow travel via London costing £34.50 and the much cheaper “via Gomshall” option I wanted for £19.70. This tallied with my research before leaving home, and that the latter with my Senior Railcard discount would cost a reasonable £13.

I wonder how many passengers are flummoxed by the use of Gomshall as the via point on the TVM screen especially as the 09:03 doesn’t stop there and it’s a somewhat obscure station especially for non local travellers to know about.

IMG_1574.jpgWhen I came to select the tab for Senior Railcard on the screen, it was faded out meaning it was unavailable. I caught the attention of the “floor walking” here-to-help-you-high-vis-wearing GatEx member of staff nearby and asked him how I could get the Senior Railcard tab to be “live” for my journey to Reading via Guildford to which he told me “Senior Railcards aren’t valid until 09:30”.

IMG_1578.jpgWhen I protested this was not the case – Senior Railcards are valid for journeys within the London & South East area at the time when an Off Peak Day Return becomes available rather than a blanket rule.  He was quite adamant: “from Gatwick the start time is 09:30 and you’ll have to catch the next train to Reading at 10:00” for my Railcard discount to be available.

IMG_1573.jpgThere was no alternative but to pay the £19.70 as I had to catch the 09:03 to make my Cornwall bound connection in Reading. Still mystified by the “computer says no” attitude of the TVM as well as what I felt was wrong advice from the floorwalking GatEx ticket expert, I asked the on board GWR guard/train manager when he came round to check tickets on the 09:03 journey when my Senior Railcard was valid from and he gave the even more incorrect reply “from 10:00”.

All this advice is of course complete bunkum. Senior Railcards are available for travel after 09:00 (for travel wholly within the London and South East area – for journeys to, and completely, outside of that area, they’re valid at any time) but there are restrictions from Gatwick into London (and within the London area) where the peak hour is deemed to continue until 09:30; but crucially there is no restriction for journeys such as Gatwick to Reading via Guildford.

IMG_1571.jpgTVMs are programmed to overcharge passengers like me buying tickets before 09:30 – in my case £19.70 instead of £13. This is a right royal rip off; not helped by completely false information being given out by staff members, wrongly claiming the TVM is correct, and whose job it is to know the rules and regulations. What hope have passengers got?

I took the matter up with Gatwick Express when I returned home after the weekend on Monday 7th October explaining the whole experience in writing and asking for a refund of the additional £6.70 I’d been forced to pay.

I received the following email back by return:

Dear Sir/Madam

We appreciate you taking the time to contact us. 

Please accept this acknowledgement as confirmation that we have received your query. We have received a large number of enquiries as a result of the national power outage which occurred on August 9th and so you may experience a delay in receiving a response. We thank our customers for their patience.

There is no need to chase us for a reply as we will get back to you as soon as we can and our aim is to provide a full response within 20 working days. Please do not reply to this email.

You may also refer to our FAQs at https://www.gatwickexpress.com/help-and-support/contact-us/faq

Kind regards

Gatwick Express Customer Relations

Bearing in mind the power outage had no impact on Gatwick Express back in August, it seemed strange two months on to still be using this as an excuse for tardy responses, but of course, passengers in the know, know that GatEx is the same company as Thameslink (which did suffer major disruption from the loss of power) when it comes to Customer Relations, but when it comes to ticket pricing the official line is they’re completely different operators to justify the extortionate fare differentials and restrictive ticket inter-availability.

In the event, notwithstanding the untimely lowering of expectations of a timely reply, I received a fuller email reply from Linda A nine days later on 16th October when she wrote:

Dear Mr French,

Thank you for contacting us regarding your recent purchase at Gatwick Station. I am sorry that you were unable to apply your Railcard discount to your tickets.

As the Off Peak times vary on different routes, the Ticket Machines are set up in such a a way that you are unable to  purchase and Off Peak ticket prior to 09:30. This is to avoid passengers being able to purchase the incorrect ticket for their journey and incurring a penalty fare.

I can see that the 09:03 service is Off Peak and therefore I would be happy to send you 6.70 in National Rail Vouchers .Before I am able to do this could you also please send us a screenshot of your Railcard?

For future journeys if you need an Off Peak Ticket prior to 09:30 we would advise you to purchase the ticket in advance online for collection at the station. This will avoid any additional costs for yourself.

We look forward to hearing from you, and once again please accept my apologies for the inconvenience caused.

Kind regards,

Linda A

Linda’s advice to buy online is a standard get out used by GTR to complaints of this kind. I’ve received the same reply when I’ve pointed out the TVM at Hassocks doesn’t allow Senior Railcard discounts for journeys to stations outside London and the South East leaving before 09:00.

It’s an even more ridiculous retort with regard to an airport station where many passengers are returning from a holiday abroad … imagine the scene in the hotel on the Costa Del Sol at the end of a holiday – “have we got all our bags packed dear?”; “yes, all packed but I must just go on line and buy our tickets for the train home to Reading for when we land at Gatwick as GTR’s computer programmers are too lazy to amend the software so it can enable a Railcard discount by destination chosen in addition to time of day”; “right oh dear, I’ll wait while you do that, no rush as we’re on holiday.”

It also says a lot about GTR’s lack of trust in its passengers that (a) it sets ticket machines up “to avoid passengers being able to purchase the incorrect ticket for their journey and incurring a penalty fare”…… so it’s perfectly OK that I have to purchase an incorrect HIGHER PRICED ticket for my journey but not OK for passengers to be able to buy a cheaper price; (b) the implications of Linda’s admission I need to purchase my ticket in advance online to “avoid any additional costs for yourself” is that if I don’t buy in that way I will incur additional costs; (c) if I purchase online I don’t have to show my Senior Railcard to anyone, yet Linda wants me to go to further trouble and inconvenience by sending a screenshot of it before she’ll trust me enough to send me a refund of the money her Company wilfully and knowingly set up a system to overcharge me; (d) Linda makes no reference to the member of staff misleading passengers with incorrect information – best to let him continue giving out incorrect advice to passengers, I assume.

I sent a screenshot of my Senior Railcard back to Linda when I returned home from Edinburgh the next day after receipt of her email, on 17th October.

On 20th October Linda’s colleague Corrie Simmonds replied more informally to advise:

Dear Roger, 

Thank you for taking the time to provide a copy of your Railcard.

I can confirm that I have requested for £6.70 cashable National Rail Vouchers to be sent to you. Please allow up to 10 working days for these to arrive.

I hope that this information is helpful. 

 Kind regards,

 Corrie Summers

And, the reason I’m relating this to you today, is that exactly three weeks since I was overcharged I’ve now received the recompensing £6.70 in National Rail Vouchers so finally resolving the matter. What a way to run a railway.

This whole franchise really is misselling at its worst and even more scandalous, the DfT knows it and allows it.

IMG_E1579.jpg

Roger French

9 thoughts on “Another Gatwick Express rip-off

      1. Yes, Roger, you’re being a big softie in accepting a voucher refund, but that might take another three weeks to get the cash refund! Have you shared your experience with Barry Doe? This is grist for his mill in his monthly column in RAIL.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve noted this when going to buy any permitted SVR to Glasgow at Kings Cross vice Euston – same price for this from ‘London Stations’ – although Paddington & Liverpool Street might be considered a bit cheeky and with the break of journey option I allow for ‘Mornington Crescent’ rules for any reversals, and side-step moves, with additional fares.

    However only the Euston TVM’s offered the cheaper any permitted fare, despite it being valid from Kings Cross.

    The on-screen fares presentation can also ‘hide’ the best fares, as I often have to hunt-down CDR Glasgow-Preston, which with a cheap return or singles to Manchester makes a large saving on a day-trip, and likewise Leeds via Appleby – half the price of every other route, and despite the grindingly slow section over the old Midland Main Line to Scotland, it is still faster than almost every other route (4h09m going South)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Roger. The choice of routing, Any Permitted or Gomshall, is actually decided by GWR as the fare setter. You can see the detail here: http://www.brfares.com/#expert?orig=GTW&dest=RDG&rlc=SRN where I have also added the Senior Rail Card qualifier. However, given that you can choose the routing there should be no reason why the different time rules cannot be programmed to sell the correct fare for the one that you select. Firstly giving a two month old incident as an excuse for not responding promptly and then not giving you a refund for the overcharge is very poor management and does rather suggest a contempt for their customers.A voucher is their way of hanging on to your money.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Retail staff training on today’s railway is little more than “Look it up on the computer”. The days of trainee ticket office staff or trainee conductors spending weeks learning the minutiae of the ticketing regulations are long gone, so it’s pretty pointless expecting the floorwalkers to know anything – especially as many of them aren’t even TOC employees anyway!

    I shan’t comment about the atrociously poor design of all TOC ticket machine interfaces beyond saying that unfortunately they all seem to be designed by graphics specialists rather than people who understand how humans use machines, and so they look pretty but they’re bloody awful to use.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Railway ticket machines seem to allow railcard concessions only from the moment that the card is valid. Buying a Network Card-discounted ticket for the 1002 departure from my local station is near impossible.
    Is it worth bringing this to the attention of @anthonysmithtf, especially as it seems to breach the bit of the “Code of Practice on retail information for rail tickets and services”
    (https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/static/documents/content/RetailInformationForRailTicketsCoP.PDF) that states:
    “Principle 3 –the information retailers provide should be accurate, truthful and should not be provided in such a way as it might deceive, even if factually correct;”.
    It might even be a matter for the courts: “From a legal perspective, the key piece of consumer law is the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (Consumer Protection Regulations or CPRs, for short), which prohibits unfair and misleading commercial practices.The CPRs apply to commercial practicesbefore, during and aftera contract is made. They contain a general prohibition of unfair commercial practices, and prohibitions of misleading and aggressive commercial practices. They also contain a list of 31 specific commercial practices that are in all circumstances prohibited.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Two thoughts from Wales.

    1. Most Valley Lines stations are unstaffed. Theoretically you can purchase a cheaper ticket if you have an Over-60s bus pass, at (I think) a different rate to the Senior Railcard discount. But the ticket machines don’t seem to offer this option. They are due for an upgrade now that TfW have taken over, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

    2. At Cardiff Queen Street I can buy discounted tickets with my Railcard – fine. (And I can of course do the same online). But if I buy at the ticket office I always have to show my Railcard. Why? Surely it’s up to onboard train staff to check.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s