Passengers overcharged in rail-ticket shambles

PUBLISHED: 14:32 10 January 2008 | UPDATED: 12:45 06 May 2010

TRAIN operator First Capital Connect (FCC) has been accused of being shambolic after admitting to overcharging a substantial number of passengers on journeys from St Albans to London. It follows confusion over the cost of the cheapest way to get into St

TRAIN operator First Capital Connect (FCC) has been accused of being shambolic after admitting to overcharging a "substantial number" of passengers on journeys from St Albans to London.

It follows confusion over the cost of the cheapest way to get into St Pancras from St Albans during peak periods and subsequent anomalies in price between the website, over the phone and at the station.

The discovery came in the wake of a national Liberal Democrat probe into the cost of commuting to London.

The party asked the National Rail website for the cost of peak-time tickets from various stations to London terminals and they found the only ticket available from St Albans was an all-day Travelcard costing £22, which includes travel on the Underground.

Sopwell district councillor David Poor confirmed the cost by calling the national train line last Thursday night where he was also quoted £22.

But St Albans Lib Dem prospective Parliamentary candidate Sandy Walkington was concerned that no mention was made of standard day returns into London - with no integrated Underground travel cost - and when he went to St Albans station to check, he found that they were available at a cost of £16.

It then transpired that until last Thursday, FCC had been giving online customers only the option of buying a Travelcard to get from St Albans to London during peak time when a £15 standard day return fare ticket should have been available.

To add to the confusion, when the standard day return was finally advertised online last Friday it was incorrectly priced at £20 - but it had gone off the website again completely by Monday.

Mr Walkington described the situation as, "a shambles" and said: "At one level people will have been put off rail travel by thinking that ticket prices are higher than they actually are and will have taken the car instead.

"But much worse, how many passengers have been missold tickets at the higher price and over what period? If a supermarket consistently overcharged and wrongly labelled its goods, there would be hell to pay."

He added: "This is now a matter for Trading Standards and the Rail Regulator. There seems to be a culture of institutional sloppiness - which in this case could have netted them substantial sums of excess money from unwitting passengers. I challenge them to come clean on how long this website error has been allowed to persist."

FCC has since confirmed that it has been charging passengers £16 for a peak-time standard day return from St Albans to the London terminals when the price of the ticket should be £15.

The train company blamed failures when inputting the fare into the system following fare increases on January 2 and confirmed that a substantial number of customers had been overcharged as a result.

FCC Integration and Partnership manager Larry Heyman said the fare had been corrected at the ticket office yesterday (Wednesday) and FCC would reimburse any overcharged passengers

He maintained that as soon as they discovered their mistake they told staff at St Albans Station to override the ticket machines so that customers would only be charged £15 for a standard day return.

And he said that despite the price of the ticket on websites being £20, customers would only have been charged £16 if they had gone through with the transaction.

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