From time to time I write a letter to my local MP when something really bothers me. Here is the transcript of my latest correspondence:

Dear Jeremy Corbyn,

I am a resident of London, having lived here for the last 7 years. I originally come from Birkenhead on the Wirral, but work in the capital as a Software Developer. I regularly travel back up North on the Virgin Train service to visit my family and have done so about 6 times a year for the last 7 years. I do not own a car and have no intention of doing so.

I, like most people, work a normal Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 shift pattern and I try and visit my family for the whole weekend. Or at least, I did, until Virigin decided to axe one of its ticket types.

I used to be able to turn up at Euston station on a Friday evening and buy a Weekender ticket which would allow me to travel on the Friday evening and return on the Monday morning. This ticket was not restricted to certain trains and was purchasable on the day of travel. The last time I bought the ticket it cost apporoximately £72. I discovered today it no longer exists, having been vanished when the new timetables were introduced in June. The only information regarding this change I have encountered is a sign at the Euston ticket office.

Now for the really bad news. The replacement ticket which offers the same freedom is now the Standard Open Return which comes in at £189. The suggestion given to me by the customer sales representative was to buy a Advance Standard ticket, of which three types are available: A,B,C. Hope that's clear. The cheapest fares using this method that I could find for the following dates are:

Leaving Ticket Cost Returning Ticket Cost
Friday 7 July 2006 Saver Single £56.20 Monday 10 July 2006 Advance Standard B £56.50
Friday 14 July 2006 Saver Single £56.20 Monday 17 July 2006 Advance Standard B £56.50
Friday 21 July 2006 Saver Single £56.20 Monday 24 July 2006 Advance Standard B £56.50
Friday 28 July 2006 Saver Single £56.20 Monday 31 July 2006 Advance Standard B £56.50

I'm sure you have spotted the pattern. Despite cheaper fares apparently existing, the realistic combined price of the same journey is £112.70. However, there are many disadvantages:

  • There was no Advance Standard B tickets available for the 06:27 train for any of the above Monday dates. This is the only train that would get me back to London in time for work. This means that I would in fact have to purchase the Saver Single and the Open Single for the return journey at £150.70 in total.
  • If I could use the Advance Standard B ticket I would have to make sure I got the correct train. Given that I depend on public transport before both starts of each journey, this is a risky proposition. If I miss the train and have to get another train, I would have to pay the difference to an Open Single plus a £10 charge. The Weekender did not have this restriction.
  • The tickets have to be bought in advance, meaning either a visit to Euston the day before or a painful navigation of the website.
  • Being tied to specific trains limits your freedom to change your mind about travel arrangements.

I hope you can see that for £112.50 I get a much less enjoyable travel deal than I used to get for £72. Effectively a 56% price inflation. For £189 I can enjoy my previous freedom. Effectively a 162% price hike. The other option is to come home on the Sunday, day of engineering works, long delays and unpleasant journeys or to take time of work on the Monday so that I can travel at off-peak times. Fortunately, my employer understood my plight and gave me the flexibility to work on the later train back! However, listening to the grumbles on the train tonight, I suspect many people are very dissatisfied with this change and it is affecting their options in a big way. I can understand that business journeys during peak hours warrant a premium fare, but why should a leisure journey which overlaps with peak times on a Friday evening and a Monday morning be penalised. Surely, environmentally-friendly, family-reinforcing travel should be encouraged, not priced out of possiblity.

The other point I would like to raise is the lack of communication of this change. On visiting the Virgintrains website today, 7th July 2006, you would be forgiven for thinking the Weekender ticket never existed. There is no mention of it anywhere, less than a month after is was vanished. The only notice was a large sign next to a ticket window at Euston station. Apparently, the head of ticket sales told me, it was placed there 10 days before the change occurred.

I have previously corresponded with Chris Smith on other issues regarding Virgin's ticketing practises and he has been a great servant in chasing up all the issues that I have raised. I hope you too can help me impress upon Virgin Trains the fact that their decisions have major effects on things other than just their bottom line profits.

On a positive note, the tilting trains have reduced the journey time to two and a half hours, and this improvement is to be whole-heartedly commended.

Yours Sincerely

Donovan Hide

Addendum: It turns out that the Weekender ticket is still available to buy on the train if you ask the conductor. However, the fact that you cannot buy a saver ticket on the train would make this a risky proposition if the conductor is awkward. This chaos and confusion means that buying tickets is just one big stressful affair.