It is all very well to be able to write books, but can you wiggle your ears?
Here’s an interesting fact. If you google FGW good, you get 611,000 hits. Search the same engine for FGW bad, and you get 2,140,000 hits. What does that tell us about passengers’ experiences of First Great Western Trains? Probably nothing.
If you search twitter for #FGW, the first ten responses include nine complaints about service, delay and ticketing. The other tweet is a joke. Hardly a representative sample of the millions of customers each year but even so, maybe it puts my journey home last night into some sort of perspective.
Suffice to say, it didn’t go well. Here’s the synopsis:
The day started well enough with a meeting at Darley Anderson with Camilla, and dinner at Auberge (highly recommended – fast, courteous, tasty, 2-for-1) with my friend Heather. Then it all went a bit wrong. There were delays on the Bakerloo due to (as the tannoy announcer delightfully put it) ‘a person under the train’. I think that last sentence encapsualtes most of why I don’t live in London. Anyway, the suicide-delay led to me missing my train by 2 minutes. I got on the next FGW train to Swindon a whole twelve minutes later, but the conductor wasn’t having any of it and grunted his demands for £153 instead.
I was on the wrong train. I totally accept that. But really? You want £153 because I’m on a train ten minutes later than planned because of an unforeseeable underground delay? When there are loads of free seats in my carriage? Am I wrong in thinking there’s a lack of common sense there?
To their credit @FGW customer services clearly trawl twitter for comments, and when I tweeted last night about waiting an hour and five minutes for the change at Swindon, they got in touch to see if there was a delay (there wasn’t – it’s just a long timetabled wait.)
I’ve added a poll at the bottom of the page (wooo hooo, my first ever poll!) – let me know if you think I’m just a winge bag, or if FGW could have done better.
This is the letter I sent to the customer services team this morning. Of course, as soon as FGW reply, I’ll post their response.
Dear First Great Western Trains
I wanted to write to you about a disappointing experience I had on your service from Paddington yesterday evening.
I had booked a first class seat on the 1948 train from Paddington to Gloucester but unfortunately, due to a suicide on the Bakerloo line I arrived at Paddington 2 minutes after the train departed. Instead, I boarded the 2000 Temple Meads train, twelve minutes later, planning to change at Swindon.
Unfortunately, the conductor on the 2000 was not sympathetic, and insisted that I purchase a new ticket at £153. When I pushed him, he grudgingly said that I could purchase a standard ticket at £30. I did this, and stood for the rest of the journey in standard, despite there being plenty of seats in first.
Now I completely understand that my ticket was not valid for that journey and I’m sure the conductor was enforcing the correct rules. However, I could not have foreseen the Bakerloo problems, my journey time was only ten minutes difference, and there was plenty of capacity on the 2000.
As a broadcaster in Swindon I recently interviewed your MD Mark Hopwood, who talked about his desire to constantly improve the customer experience. I think when your conductor had a chance yesterday to live up to that desire, he missed an opportunity. Next time one of my listeners complains about FGW’s service, sadly I won’t be able to use my experience as an example of good service.
Are FGW conductors allowed to use their good judgement in these cases? For example, could he have been understanding about the delays on the Bakerloo line and used his discretion to accept my ticket?
Could he have at least let me know that there was a £30 standard fare available rather than trying to ‘bully’ me into paying the £153 first class fare?
Could he, maybe, have asked me to pay a standard fare but have used his discretion to allow me to stay in my seat? Or is it a FGW policy to enforce the rules rigidly, asking me to pay an extra charge to leave my seat and stand in standard for the journey?
I travelled first class on FGW through choice, because I thought it would be convenient and comfortable. On this occasion, the journey was disappointing, discourteous and embarrassing. It is not an experience I’d wish to repeat in a hurry.
I write in the hope that this feedback will be useful.