National Express stripped of East Coast Mainline franchise
We're struggling to shed a tear at the news that the East Coast Mainline franchise has been stripped from National Express and will be taken into public ownership. It's actually more of a carnival atmosphere in the Bitterwallet office - Andy is dressed like that bird with the ostrich feathers you always see in photos of Mardi Gras.
The East Coast Mainline has lost National Express £20 million in the first six months of this year alone, a drop in the ocean compared to the £1.2 billion of debt the company is carrying. The Government refused requests to renegotiate the tender, which National Express was due to operate until 2015. National Express has stated that the "challenging economic environment" meant fewer passengers on the East Coast Mainline and "significant" levels of people were downgrading from first-class and full fares. The company itself was, of course, blameless. The Government has said that all tickets bought will be honoured.
So where did it all go wrong for such a friendly, caring company? Bitterwallet has some thoughts:
It shouldn't cost less to fly to London
National Express had capacity. They had frequency - over 30 direct trains between Newcastle and London every weekday. They had wifi! Taking into account security checks, boarding times and transfers into central London, they had time on their side too. Yet a passenger could often pay far more to take the train, than the plane - on the day or even with several days' notice. How could National Express possibly, possibly screw this up?
It shouldn't cost less to drive to London
Even with the cost of petrol being what it is, I can still drive 250 miles to London and back for less than a return ticket (or even a single ticket) bought on the day, and usually in advance. Stick three other people in the car with me, and suddenly the role of the train as a cost efficient alternative is a nonsense of a shambles, cocooned in fuckwittery.
Who cares about first class?
National Express point the finger of blame at the customers, because not enough people booked first class and instead plumped for the cheap seats. That's because they didn't offer a first class experience. In fact the perks of the first class carriage on trains hasn't changed for years. A little more legroom? Free tea and coffee? Other operators offer these as standard. A reading lamp? A free newspaper? That's the difference between a £105 return ticket from Newcastle to London, and paying £373 to travel first class? Are you fucking insane?
National Express treated customers dreadfully
We've talked at lengths about the dreadful company-centric policies of their customer care, despite it being customers that determine the expectations of a service. Their customer service policies were archaic, unwelcoming and positively hostile towards the people paying for them. Why couldn't I have a replacement ticket if I lost mine? Why couldn't I buy a cut-price ticket on the day of travel, even the train was empty? Why did National Express offer paper vouchers as compensation for a booking made online, forcing the customer to book their next journey at a station without the online discount they benefited from in the first place? Everything about the business was geared towards maximising their own profits rather than delivering the best possible service for the customer.
Goodbye National Express East Coast Mainline, we never loved you. Hopefully your successor will give more of a damn about running a railway on behalf of its passengers.