Time to go VTEC

Until recently I've had a fairly open mind about the future of Virgin Trains East Coast and whether it was a management contract for Stagecoach, renationalisation or awarding the contract to another operator the only thing I particularly cared about is that a quality service was maintained for passengers and staff morale could improve. Unfortunately Virgin Trains East Coast now seems to be in full denial of their problems and won't listen to any criticism. Once known for being very open David Horne is now blocking even the mildest of criticism.

 

Although we didn't see eye to eye Virgin Trains East Coast at least gave the impression they were listening. We used to have regular meetings about loyalty schemes and recognition with the marketing director, VTEC used to have many public feedback events (branded Airtime) but now these have vanished. We used to have a fairly good relationship with VTEC all things told. I'd been invited to a number of events with them including a wine tasting and the Azuma launch event, I was given a bottle of Hop on Board before it was launched too. There was many things we may have disagreed on but in general we thought they were doing a decent job.

That all changed in 2017, they made changes to shift rotas meaning fewer staff on board most trains. We knew this would impact the catering service but they claimed that it wouldn't, the only staff that would be removed were those that were under utilised. As expected this turned out not true and meant a significant number of services didn't have the advertised catering, we called this the catering lottery. A number of changes were made in December to the rotas to improve reliability once more. Things are now better than they were when the changes were first made but the catering is still not as dependable as it was prior to the April 2017 rota changes.

The next thing that happened was VTEC launched a new booking engine in beta (public testing) and I discovered this in June. As I wanted this to be a success I spend a few hours going through the site documenting any issues I found and also providing suggestions. When other people also pointed out key missing features like cycle reservations their reply was it's a beta and it would be in the release version. I found a few days before that the site was going to go live on the 1st of August and the beta still showed no sign of having these missing features, I said this was a mistake at the time but was ignored. Those who complained at the time were told not to worry the features would be in phase 2. Now eight months later there's no mention of phase 2 and if these old features would ever make a return. Originally I reported all issues in private but as they were being ignored I started reporting them publicly and also resorting to humour to show what a joke things had become.

I noticed the more critical of VTEC I became the more that I'd hear via DM on Twitter from disillusioned VTEC staff. They've confirmed morale is at an all time low and it's totally undeserved. VTEC employs some great people but the management don't seem to know what's important and what's not, they don't know how to make their frontline staff feel valued (hint: listen to them!)

The message I was blocked for on VTEC social media today was me suggesting to them that they're a bit more honest about the Azuma rollout. They still keep saying December 2018 but in December there's only expected to be one train in service and that won't go beyond Yorkshire. Many people expected a rather substantial number to be available by December but that's not the case. The scheduled finish for the Azuma rollout is Summer 2020.

Now the Azuma schedule is not the fault of VTEC, it's been delayed due to circumstances beyond their control, but what is in their control is the messaging. Don't create unrealistic expectations, say most of the trains are rolling out in 2019. If you promise the world and underdeliver then it's just going to cause disappointment. 

To me this just shows the rotten attitude of VTEC, they no longer embrace their critics. I'd rather not have to say to them "I told you so" I want to see the East Coast a success whoever is running it. I've tried to be positive and I've tried to feed back directly.

So whether you think public or private is best I hope you agree that there's something rotten about VTEC and so a change in operator is what we need.

We just need to ensure the high standards we're used to thanks to East Coast and GNER are kept, whoever is running it.

^DH

Views are my own, not necessarily the views of other contributors