Rail Card Rip-Off

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As students, finding the best deal is often not only satisfying, but necessary. It seemed that with the 16-25 Railcard (which can be obtained for free by joining Santander) train journeys could now be another thing that students could scrimp on with a helpful 1/3rd discount. Yet what students often forget, is that while we’re trying to save as much as we can, train lines (or any business for that matter) are trying to make as much as they can. Even if that means treating students unfairly.

It recently came to my attention that there has been a reoccurring problem surrounding the procedure to deal with a forgotten or lost railcard. While it is well known that if you do not present your railcard with a discounted ticket you will be forced to buy another ticket. Yet any reasonable person would presume if you can prove you own a railcard you would be treated accordingly. This is untrue and so it seems to me that this is just one way of forcing students to pay, not just once for a ticket, but twice.

For example I recently travelled from London to Manchester and just five minutes before my train was due to leave I was stopped and asked to present my ticket and my railcard. In a rush, I was filled with dread when it seemed I had lost my railcard in London. In an attempt to reason with the staff I presented my online railcard account, my provisional drivers licence, my Lancaster University student ID (both pieces of plastic that have my face and age on, just as the railcard would have) as well as my Santander debit card, as proof that I do indeed have a railcard and was not trying to cheat the rail company out of money (even though that is what they seemed eager to do to me). Even then I was told I would have to pay, almost £100, for a 2 hour train journey that I had already paid for, in spite of the fact that I clearly had a railcard, not only when I bought the ticket but at least to get to London.

What is striking is the fact that the original ticket is deemed as “invalid”. Yet train lines still kept this money, despite the fact that if the ticket is invalid then surely the entire transaction is? Suggesting that the company should not be entitled to gain profit from the original exchange of money. There was no mention of a refund on the original ticket, nor would they deduct it from the price of the new ticket. Not only does this ringing alarm bells but the fact that no other staff seemed like they wanted to or were willing to help implies to me that the train company sees this as just another opportunity to gain a profit.

It seemed like not only were the staff unwilling to help, but that they did not seem to understand the procedure, two different individuals giving incorrect information. One gentleman told me that if I found my railcard (which I did eventually at the bottom of my bag) I would have to return to London to get the refund. Paying for yet another return ticket, putting more money in the train lines pocket. The next person I spoke to told me I could not have a refund because the ticket I bought had not been stamped, a failure of the staff in London, clearly not a fault of my own. Had he done so I would have been handed back my money there and then. This customer assistant then proceeded to give me a leaflet on how to gain refunds due to delays. Clearly not helpful.

Finally one gentleman gave me the correct contact information and told me that this was a common problem. This is to be expected, as many people forget or lose their railcards during a journey, yet it seems ridiculous that for such a common problem, staff are still making these mistakes and that the train line themselves still refuse to accept another form of proof. The only explanation seems to be that these company’s revel in the profit of student’s misfortune. Targeting supposedly naïve 16-25 year olds through the railcard and seizing the understandably often problem the inability to present it, to charge them an extortionate amount and then make the process so difficult to regain their money that many students would give up. This theory seemed to be reinforced by the fact that their helpline will never allow you to actually speak to a real person. The three different times I called, I received nothing but an automated response informing me that they were not taking calls. Forcing me to try a third option, emailing their customer service department. Yet even to this day nothing but automated responses have been received, with no apology and certainly no refunds.

It seems to me now, that train lines do not have the best interest of students at heart and that their entire system, especially concerning refunds, is designed to discourage anyone from seeking what they are owed.

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