Avanti Lentemente (forward, slowly)
This is the story of a train ticket. It is quite long but it contains a big welfare issue (actually, the biggest welfare issue) and a potential time-saver (actually, a life saver) for humans everywhere.
One day back in June, I turned up at Penrith station with the intention of getting the 10. 04 down to Euston. I was aware that it was the day before strike day, and I was aware that some train companies go out of the way to set things up for chaos the day before a strike. I think they think if they can stoke passenger impatience, everyone will be more likely to blame workers for the disruption – so I wasn’t that surprised to discover that trains weren’t arriving at Penrith at their proper times, due to a freight train that had mysteriously stopped just outside Carlysle.
Station staff were present, animated, friendly and lively, and trying to ascertain why said freight train was sitting there, blocking the mainline southbound. Strangely, the overhead announcements told us that they were very sorry that two other trains were late due to lack of crew.
Conversation on the platform was good natured, and many were chatting with the staff about such things as how they knew trains were short due to a lack of crew, rather than due to the company failing to retain and schedule appropriate staff, how they knew those trains wouldn’t have been late anyway, due to the freight train blocking the line. A bit of a cheer went up when one of the station staff got a message that the freight train had started moving – followed by a bit of a groan when he heard that it was moving at ten miles per hour, and did not appear able to either speed up or go into a siding to let the rest of the day’s services go by.
Eventually, the mysteriously afflicted freight train lumbered through the station. Much enthusiasm from staff and would-be passengers on the platform. Would-be passengers around me were discussing why the rail company could not work out that they needed either longer sidings or shorter freight trains, so they could get off the mainline when necessary. We had plenty of time to discuss the matter because it was still quite a while before the (was to have been) 10.04 turned up, but eventually it did, and we boarded and headed for Euston.
Being so late, and being far from the only train that had been disrupted by the rail companies that day, we got lengthy and informative announcements from the on board train crew, saying things like we are now approaching town X, we are Y minutes late, so if you wanted an on-going connection to town Z, you’d best nip over the bridge to platform 3, where you should be able to get the service to…” etc. In between those, we got annoying, sneaky pre-prepared announcements from the rail company, supposedly apologising for the disruption we would face tomorrow due to the RMT industrial action. Lots of wry responses from passengers, wondering how it would compare to today’s disruption, caused by the train company.
Two expensive minutes saved
As we pulled in to Euston, the train manager did her lateness apology and delay-repay information over the pa, saying “we are going to arrive into Euston… Oh, I am so sorry – we seem to have made up a minute or two on the way. We will be arriving 58 minutes late.”
She was referring, of course, to the fact that if the train had been over an hour behind, as it had been for most of its journey, we would all have got our money back.
“Right,” said one bloke near me, “I am going to have a word with the driver.”
Lots of people made suggestions as to what he might say or do – largely humorous, I assure you – the general mood was that both we and the railway staff are being messed about and ripped off by train companies.
So, we arrived just under an hour late, and all went home to claim our 50 percent delay-repay for being nearly an hour late (as opposed to the 100 percent we would have got if we’d been two minutes later).
We support the RMT
Let’s face it, if the driver had diddled us on purpose, it would not have made any difference as train drivers – who do earn good money – are mainly ASLEF members, not RMT, so absolutely nothing to do with the next day’s strike. RMT however, whose members include most ticket-office and station staff, many of whom are threatened with redundancy, because the train companies can’t be bothered to respond to the fact that people like having humans on the station and on the trains, to talk to when things go wrong, and whose members include outsourced workers such as train cleaners, whose pay and working conditions are abysmal – that RMT – were out in lively mood at St Pancras, when I arrived to join the next leg of my journey. Here they are, raising awareness of the strikes starting the next day. I love a bit of carnival…
[Video caption: if Priti Patel is reading this, please note: this was not an annoying, noisy demo. It was a bit of carnival on a summer’s day, and lots of passers-by were cheering or waving, and trucking on with a new spring in their step – in other words, enjoying the show and the solidarity. Blow your trumpet, wave your flag, get people to join in…]
When I got home, I went to the Avanti West Coast website to claim my 50 percent refund. After a while, I managed to register on the site but wasn’t sure whether I had to sign up for the auto-repay or the other thing, so went off to check. When I came to log in again, it didn’t accept my password and wouldn’t send me a verification email when I tried to change it.
After a bit of faff, I found the bit where it said you had to sign up to their Delay Repay as well as signing up to the site in general so I thought maybe I could ignore the first fail and just sign up there – trouble is, it still wouldn’t send me a verification email, so I couldn’t, and I couldn’t find an alternative contact that didn’t necessitate being signed in to account the first.
What I did find, eventually, was a downloadable, printable delay claim form so I downloaded it, with a sigh of relief.
Shortlived relief, because it was a .pdf with settings that didn’t seem to match anything my printer understood. It was just a copy of their natty little fold-in-three, cardboard claim form designed for station displays. Half a dozen wasted pieces of paper with bits of the form on them later, I realised I also had a problem with ‘page two’ of the download, because their cardboard foldy uppy thing had a whole page of solid black. Ink is not cheap, Avanti, and I do not relish using up more ink than the 50 percent repay money would cover.
A return to the old days
I sulked for a few days, then had a brainwave – came back, took a screenshot of the main page of the form – the bit you can fill in to make your claim – and printed that off. I started filling it in, then realised it required a booking reference number – it had a red asterisk (meaning it was ‘required information’) and I did not have a booking reference number. I sulked for a few more days, then took the old-fashioned option – one that is, almost without fail, the most satisfying. I went down to my local station, that still has human staff, and asked the human at the counter what I should do.
I had originally bought my Penrith tickets over the counter. It’s the obvious thing to do, as there are so many prices, many of them astronomical, for every journey you can imagine. Talking to a member of staff who has all the information to hand is the most reliable way of getting the best price available.
So, back at the station with my half-complete delay-repay form, and the bloke behind the counter told me that you don’t get a booking reference unless you buy your ticket online, but that the train company had a duty to process your delay-repay claim anyway, so not to worry.
That’s what humans need – other humans to talk to about their difficulties. That’s why I supported the RMT when they did their ‘keep the guard on the train’ campaign. Walking back from the station with my delay-repay form, I thought back over all the reasons we thought of that humans need humans, when we were ‘the RMT support crew’ on that campaign (go straight on down past the aside if you already know about that…)
Aside 1: Images from the ‘keep the guard on the train’ campaign
End of aside 1
Back to my train ticket story: satisfied, I went home, finished filling the form in, stuck my ticket to it, addressed an envelope, added a first class stamp (what do they cost now?) and took a photo of the whole little collection, just in case anything went wrong, then went off to post it.
I then started worrying that ‘Avanti West Coast Delay Repay’, which was the only address they gave, would not work for something that was not their foldy-uppy cardboard thing.
Find the human
And then I started worrying that I had forgotten to fill in the bit about how I want to be paid, should my claim be successful. I had another look around the Avanti website, in case there were any links to human contacts. I didn’t find any, so sulked for another day or so
Then I had a minor brain-wave, and went to look on their Facebook page. Result! Humans answer the messages on their Facebook page! Conversation is a bit wobbly, and takes a day or two to progress, because a different human answers each time you comment but they are humans. They asked me for my Avanti case number, and I said I didn’t have one because I had failed to get their website to accept my registration. They said never mind, and did I have a booking reference number. I said I didn’t, because I bought my ticket over the counter. They said never mind, and went off to look for my claim based on the information on my ticket. Websites never say “never mind, I’ll do it.” Only humans do.
They came back and told me no, my claim form hadn’t been received but never mind, they’d put one in for me so I sent them the photos of my form, and my ticket, and off they went and an hour later, I got an email telling me my claim was being processed. It reminded me of all that’s going on around the global ‘Demand Better’ campaign (a couple of examples below – but go straight on down past ‘aside two’ if you’re already fired up to organise!)
Aside 2: Avanti insieme (forward together)
Humans need humans to look after them. To ensure you get humans, get together with other humans, and when there are enough of you, insist on humans.
End of aside 2
But to round off the story of my ticket…
Find the human, support the human
The moral of this story is, we need humans. There will probably be more rail strikes soon, because the rail companies still haven’t accepted that we need humans, so redundancies and other attacks on workers are still on their agenda. When the time comes, they will keep giving you those sneaky announcements apologising for disruption caused by RMT industrial action. When they do, please remember the disruption caused by strikes is much less common than the disruption caused by absentee, profiteering rail companies, and the disruption caused by strikes is in a good cause – it’s the people of this country demanding better. It’s the people of this country saying we want our services run by properly trained, properly paid humans.
Please support the RMT, and the other strikes on the cards for this summer, all of which, one way or another, boil down to our demands for real human service, for a government and national services that pay us properly and look after us properly because – never forget, the power is with us, the skills are with us, the responsibility is with us. It’s us, and only us, who can provide us with decent services. The job of a government is merely to administrate and facilitiate. If they’re not doing their job, we need to take action, and either remove them or change them.
(I’ll stick a ‘PS’ in here if/when I get my delay-repay money. Will it come before my available funds this month run out? could anyone currently in our government even understand that thought?)
PS I received an email on 12th July, telling me a cheque for £30.23 will be in the post, and to allow 10-15 days for it to arrive. (AVANTI LENTEMENTE indeed!). Today, 15th July, is the first day of the CWU strike, so better make that 20 or so days. Ah well — success! — some money will probably happen at the end of the month.
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