I have just been interviewed by BBC Three Counties Radio about the astonishing blunder by First Capital Connect in failing to ensure their summer promotion super saver weekend day returns could be purchased from station ticket machines. The super saver tickets were launched in June. They offer up to 25 percent discounts on weekend train travel to London. The press release announcing the promotion clearly stated "Tickets can be purchased at ticket offices, from Self Service Ticket Machines or online at the First Capital Connect website." Er, not true actually. The self-service ticket machines were not recoded so throughout the summer weekend tickets purchased by this mechanism were charged at the normal, undiscounted day return rate.
It was my friend Cllr Malcolm Cowan who eventually discovered the discrepancy. He speaks on transport at County Hall. He was making a weekend journey from Welwyn Garden City down to London, purchased a super saver ticket, saw a friend on the platform and commented on the good value of the ticket. The friend looked surprised, peered at his own ticket bought almost simultaneously from the ticket machine and saw that it had been charged at the normal higher rate.
When Malcolm and I challenged First Capital Connect, we were told it had been too complicated to recode the ticket machines, which has to be done centrally so that tickets can be purchased from anywhere to anywhere across the rail system. But that was not what the FCC press release said (see above), nor had any attempt been made to put notices at ticket machines alerting weekend passengers that the super saver tickets could only be purchased at the booking office. A lot of people must have been caught out. Not regular season ticket holders of course but the occasional weekend traveller going into London for a cricket match, art exhibition, show or summer sale.
At St Albans there are ten ticket machines - it is often quicker to grab a ticket from one of them, particularly if you come into the station from the Ridgmont Road car park. And of course at many smaller stations the booking office will be closed for much of the weekend giving walk-up passengers no choice but to use machines. As far as I can tell this must have affected the whole FCC network from Brighton in the south to Kings Lynn and Bedford in the north, though I have written to Jim Morgan, MD of FCC, for confirmation of this.
I have also asked him to confirm that the ticket machines have now been recoded but also that the weekend ticket offer is easily accessible from the front screen. I have also asked him to explain how compensation arrangements will be put in place for all the people who have been mis-sold tickets at the higher price. At least one of my St Albans friends who always used the Ridgmont Road entrance ticket machines had kept her summer travel receipts and has already made a claim to the FCC customer service department - which is based of course in Plymouth. I will report on her success or otherwise - and on what I hear back from Mr Morgan and FCC.