Rail users being 'mugged' - claim

Train operator National Express has been accused of “mugging” passengers by introducing charges for reserving a seat.From Sunday, passengers with “walk-up” tickets will be charged �2.

Train operator National Express has been accused of “mugging” passengers by introducing charges for reserving a seat.

From Sunday, passengers with “walk-up” tickets will be charged �2.50 per single and �5 per return ticket to reserve a seat on the Norwich to London Liverpool Street and East Coast inter-city services.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said the move was “outrageous” and warned it could spark abuse of booking office staff.

A National Express spokesman said: “We want to improve the on-board environment for our customers. We do find that people are often reserving multiple seats as they're not sure which train they are going to catch.

“While we understand this, by asking people to pay for a seat reservation, seats will no longer be left empty with a reserved sign, therefore being made available for other customers to use.”

Asked why the company could not simply ban passengers from booking more than one seat per ticket, he said: “If you bring in a fee it's a way of managing it more effectively.”

Most Read

The charges will apply to standard tickets including anytime, off-peak, super off-peak and weekenders, but not to advance purchase, first class and season tickets, or to assisted passengers and customers with a disabled railcard. Nor will they apply to local services.

Booking a seat would not be compulsory, and the charges would affect only a fraction of passengers, the spokesman added.

The TSSA said it was the highest seat-booking charge ever imposed by a private rail company. Booking clerks told the union they were so worried about passenger reaction that they had warned management they expect regular abuse when they ask for the extra cash.

General secretary Gerry Doherty said: “This is an outrageous imposition on millions of passengers.

“That is simply mugging passengers for an extra fiver, and it will hit the elderly and families the hardest. They cannot risk being forced to stand on long journeys from Newcastle to London and therefore they will be forced to pay the extra.”

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said: “This is another example of National Express bleeding passengers dry in the drive to prop up their profits. The sooner the railways are free from this privatised daylight robbery the better.”

Dr Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North, questioned the company's claim that a fee was necessary to stop multiple reservations.

“I think that's an excuse. I can't imagine anyone would do that,” he said. “It's just a skive to get more money out of customers. More than half the time they don't even put the reserved notices on seats because the trains arrive late and they don't have time.”

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, said: “It would be quite nice to get some good news about this line for a change. These stories can't do anything to encourage people out of their cars and on to the trains.”

Ashwin Kumar, director of Passenger Focus, said: “Charging passengers to reserve a seat beggars belief. This is another example of back door fare rises.”