Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) have now been the operator of the InterCity East Coast franchise for two years, taking over from the state owned East Coast on 1st March 2015. We're taking a look at how VTEC has performed over the last year in the following areas:
One of the biggest but under reported changes made last year was that VTEC have changed the validity of their flexible off-peak tickets. Previously off-peak tickets were only restricted on the outward and the return leg was fully flexible. This has now been changed so that the peak restrictions apply on both legs. More information about this is in our 'Fares Fair' article.
Changes have been made to ticket purchasing on board and in the stations. Most rail operators have replaced the previous 'Avantix' machines that were used to sell tickets on board. The old machines were approaching the end of their support period, the new systems use a smartphone and tickets are printed using standard receipt printers on special ticket stock. The East Coast system is called DORIS and is different to the other similar systems being rolled out by other operators. One common complaint on all these new systems is that the tickets that are printed are quite large and only work on ticket barriers with barcode scanners. As usual when these were first rolled out it was taking the guards longer to issue tickets but this has improved as they've became more familiar with the system.
The other change is the roll out of new ticket machines at stations. It is the intention that these machines can sell a wider range of tickets (including advance purchase) and reduce the dependency on ticket offices. At the time of writing the roll out of these systems is not complete but based on the feedback on social media it looks like they were rolled out with inadequate testing including some issues that should have been resolved before release. These include Travelcards purchased at Peterborough station not working on the ticket barriers at London Underground stations and the machines not accepting Amex. Many have also said the process of purchasing a ticket is slower but hopefully updates can be made to the platform to make purchasing the most common tickets quicker.
We know there is an industry wide push to improve and simplify ticket offerings and we hope that VTEC will be one of the first players to help to make it easier for both seasoned and new travellers to purchase the right ticket for their needs.