Tuesday 30 June 2015

Customer Service At Its Worst

Today I should have been traveling down to Sussex for a post operation eye check up. These journeys need careful planning, as it is quite some journey there and back. For example I had to book the minibus to get me to the station last Wednesday, and the taxi back from Saxmundham tonight was booked 3 weeks ago. On top of that, as any sensible traveller does, likely delays have to be accounted for, so I always look to get through London at least an hour earlier than I actually need too. Normally it goes very well.

However the one link I can't make any allowance for is getting from Halesworth to Ipswich. .There is a train at 0759. The next one is 0941 so you will understand if the 0759 is affected so does the whole day.

Today there was a points failure at Norwich, meaning some units were delayed in starting their day. Unfortunately the unit forming the 0727 Lowestoft - Ipswich was one of them. Now that is NOT the fault of Greater Anglia. Infrastructure faults are down to Network Rail and I am not blaming GA for a second that the train had to be cancelled. I got to Halesworth Station to see that a replacement bus was operating. Not a problem as my buffer zone would come into play and as long as I was at Ipswich in time for the 1008 I would still make my appointment. So the ten or so of us waited for the bus to arrive. And waited.

I tweeted GA who helpfully informed me what time the bus should have left Lowestoft, but couldn't tell me if it actually had or if it was ever going to arrive at Halesworth. Other passengers suffered a similar lack of information from other sources. At one point someone was told the bus was 10 mins away. 40 mins later at 0917, some 78 mins after the train was due a Panther Travel coach arrived with one, yes one passenger on board who alighted at Halesworth. Where the passengers from Lowestoft and Beccles were is anyone's guess. The driver to put it politely was clueless. He had no idea where he was meant to be going, if he had to call at other stations, and was actually advising people to wait for the next train. By this time I knew I had no chance of  making the 1008 and using my inside knowledge plan B was brought out.

In my time as a Conductor I called many a taxi for a delayed customer in a variety of circumstances. The threshold for this was an hour's delay or more. So I called GA's Customer Service team to request a taxi as my delay had exceeded that hour. To my astonishment the lady on the other end of the phone said as they couldn't verify the bus was that late she couldn't do anything. I beg your pardon? Isn't that basically accusing me of lying? What about the numerous tweets and phonecalls by others? Is there no communication whatsoever between departments?

So I spoke to a supervisor who said even if the bus was that late because alternative transport had been provided she couldn't authorise a taxi, which she couldn't anyway as only the control team could do that. So that was that. Cancel appointment, and taxi tonight, and re-book for next week. A day of my life I'll never get back.

When I got home the first thing I did was consult the GA Conditions of Carriage and Passenger Charter and guess what?? I WAS entitled to a taxi going on their own criteria. I quote from the Passenger Charter:

If you miss a connection because our train is running late or is
cancelled, we will help you re-plan your journey to keep the
inconvenience to a minimum. If you miss a connection
because of problems with our train, we will arrange alternative
transport to get you to your final destination if:
the next connecting train is more than 60 minutes later than
the one you should have caught, and;
it will get you there quicker than waiting for the next train. 
Now the important words there are "final destination". GA had provided alternative transport to Ipswich, however it would still have got me there too late to get my connecting train. My original connection should have been the 0908 from Ipswich, but the earliest connection I would have caught would have been the 1043, well over the 60 min threshold. Needless to say a taxi would have got me to East Grinstead quicker than the train too. Therefore by GA's own criteria I was entitled to alternative transport to my FINAL destination. The Twitter team told me to claim a refund, but since I never got the chance to buy the ticket in the first place as the East Suffolk Line is unmanned that was a waste of breath too!

So not a good day, either for myself or for Greater Anglia, who in the past I have defended to the hilt in the face of unfair criticism. However this criticism is more than justified and really GA's staff should know their own rules.


  1. Hopefully the fact that you've "gone public" will get some results. Here's hoping!

    1. Well it won't get me to my appointment or replace the wasted day, but yes, if you are going to publish guidelines like that the least you can do is make sure your staff know them! I will be interested to see if anyone from GA gets back to me as I did tweet them the link to the post!

  2. How about taking this up with Transport Focus (the new name for Passenger Focus)?
    As a statutory body, they can add some clout to deal with GA getting their own rules wrong.

  3. So what exactly was the problem "with" GA's train then? Was it defective, in a collision, broken down, did it run out of fuel or was it driverless; or was the problem with NR's infrastructure? The first and second sentences of the bit you quote use different terminology i.e it doesn't say if our train is late or cancelled [for whatever reason] we will arrange alternative transport. Too pedantic, perhaps? Or am I the only one who finds transport law and admin a nightmare? Fair enough, perhaps, because who pays for it? Everybody else. And it's another reason why now, because of what I hope is a temporary problem, I have to rely on public transport, that I don't, except when I absolutely can't avoid it. And a day out takes me three weeks to recover and summon up some more courage!!