I've been told by some of the on-board crew on Virgin Trains East Coast that if the credit card machines are not working and there's no alternative method to take payment (e.g. there might be a spare handheld machine that can be used) that staff can offer items from the Foodbar complimentary.
Until recently staff on Virgin Trains East Coast had the option to fall back on the manual (bartizan) credit card imprinters, this is no longer an option. I'm not sure whether it's because their credit card processor doesn't accept this anymore or whether this old method of processing cards has been completely phased out but it means that if the machines aren't working they have no way to take card payments.
In this situation it's not the passengers fault that the card machines are not working and these days you can easily live day to day without carrying cash so fewer people now expect to need to carry cash to fall back on, also it's not exactly possible to pop to the cash machine in the middle of a long train journey.
So it seems unfair that some members of train crew turn away passengers who wanted to pay by card and have no cash. Why are they doing this? Have they not been told they can offer food complimentary in these circumstances? Have different train crew been told different things depending on their line manager?
I'd like to know. If you're a member of train crew who's not been told they can offer complimentary food when the card machines aren't working then contact us, if you're aware of the possibility of offering the food complimentary but choose not to then I'd also be interested in the reasons why.
Either use the contact us page or send a DM on Twitter if you'd like to share your experiences. Anything you say will be kept confidential unless you give us permission to share it.
When VTEC launched their new booking engine in 2017 they removed the ability to purchase catering vouchers alongside your ticket, as well as saving money (a £5 voucher just cost £4) it meant that you had something you could pay with on-board. Now the facility to purchase them was also removed from ticket machines the only way you can get them is to queue up at a ticket desk.
What should VTEC do?
They need to ensure passengers are not inconvenienced due to the failure of their own equipment. All crew must be told that they can offer complimentary catering to passengers in this situation, either that or the information screens in the stations and the 'catering changes' section of the website should indicate well in advance if there's an issue with the card machines so people can pop by the cash machine before boarding.
There's no reason whatsoever that VTEC can't have a backup system to take payment should their main system fail. The backup system should be able to also take offline transactions should there be a network outage.
It would also be nice if VTEC started offering catering vouchers once more via their website and ticket machines.
Why not carry cash?
Although there's still many people who prefer cash, it's getting more commonplace to use cards almost exclusively day to day. If I have to take out cash just in case the machine on the train isn't working it's a pain putting any remaining left over back in the bank as there's no branch near my home or office and most banks are still closed outside of office hours.
There's plenty of solutions for taking card payments offline, the system British Airways uses has to take transactions offline as their aircraft don't have WiFi (yet, but they'll still have to work when the WiFi is down once it's installed).
I was quite an earlier adopter to a cashless lifestyle, even going back 15 years ago I'd only ever take cash out if I was going to a place that I knew didn't accept cards, one of the original reasons for this was to earn frequent flyer points on my spend but also convenience played a part.
There's many advantages for VTEC to ecourage card use (although I wouldn't go the direction of BA and go card only onboard), on a well implemented system contactless payments should be quicker than cash and the ability to serve passengers faster must be a good aim to have.