East and West Coast passengers should unite for the benefit of all
Back in the early days of the Save East Coast Rewards campaign we used the hashtag #MakeVirginListen to highlight the fact that we got zero response from Virgin at the group level. The @richardbranson Twitter account is a marketing account, most of the Tweets are posted by the marketing team using a tool called Hootsuite and if you look at his timeline it's extremely rare that he replies to any messages.
Although we have started to engage in positive dialogue with the management team of Virgin Trains East Coast we've still never heard anything from the Virgin Group, does Richard Branson and his management team even know the damage and bad will such a decision made. If the Virgin Group knows about this, has Richard Branson been shielded from it or is he just happy to watch the money rolling in?
The Virgin Trains (West Coast) decision to axe the railcard easement with so little warning is worse for many reasons that we've already pointed out. They used it as a way to get thousands of people to sign their petition when they lost their franchise to FirstGroup, I remember reading some of the comments online and this railcard ticket easement was one of the key things people liked about Virgin Trains. You can understand why these people feel cheated now!
Even if Virgin Trains couldn't sustain this discount they should have realised that because this was not advertised as a limited time or temporary offer then people would make decisions based on it. It offered opportunities for the young, elderly and disabled that they may not have been able to afford otherwise. Many young people accepted jobs knowing that the only way they could afford this commute was through this discount, the aim was to get a start on the career ladder with the hopes of earning enough to cover their costs once they finally disqualified for the discount.
Why should East Coast users care?
Although those of us in the East Coast mainline have never had such an offer for railcard holders we do know what it's like to feel cheated. Although we're hoping to improve the loyalty situation by engaging with the Virgin Trains East Coast management teams the simple fact is if they'd listened to their customers and consulted with them first we wouldn't have been in the mess we are now.
Now on the West Coast we have the same thing happening with the other Virgin branded rail operator. Virgin Trains take away a scheme that was relied upon by many but this one has a ridiculously short notice period which I'm sure has now caused a lot of worry and anxiety for many as they try to find ways that they can still afford to get to work. Not forgetting there's probably quite a few that's not even got the message yet and may be in for a nasty surprise on the 7th September when they try and purchase a ticket.
We want a fairer railway, Virgin also claim they believe in doing right for the customer. As an East Coast passenger screwed over with the removal of rewards you should understand how annoying it is when a company takes away a benefit you relied on without even consulting those affected.
Why should West Coast users care about East Coast Rewards?
If Virgin had any sense they would have ditched the pathetic Nectar scheme and extended East Coast Rewards to cover the West Coast too. It was a truly generous scheme that rewarded you with free tickets. Although we don't think anyone has had to give up their job due to the lack of rewards it was a scheme that definitely improved on the quality of life of many who travelled on this route. It meant people who spent all their money on commuting got free travel in leisure time, so they could visit family, friends, discover new places or spend more time with the kids. If we could get a scheme like this back to cover both franchises it'd show that Virgin did care about their customers.
Some of the comments we got from our petition:
Hopefully this has convinced you whether you're an East Coast or a West Coast passenger in the interests of a fairer railway it's worth supporting both campaigns. So if you haven't done already I hope you will sign both petitions. Let's try and #MakeVirginListen and apply some of their own brand values.
It may also be worth adapting some tips in our How to Help document into the Virgin Trains equivalents. In other words email Virgin Trains with your dissatisfaction, mention it on Twitter and Facebook, complain to Transport Focus, etc.