Rail operator slammed after 'perk' axed

UNDER-FIRE rail operator One was accused last night of treating its customers with “disdain” after it cancelled popular perks for season ticket holders.

UNDER-FIRE rail operator One was accused last night of treating its customers with “disdain” after it cancelled popular perks for season ticket holders.

David Bigg, chairman of one of the region's biggest commuter groups, said fellow passengers were furious they were no longer entitled to free weekend travel on the East Anglian network.

Under a previous Gold Card deal, commuters who paid out as much as £3,300 a year for a season ticket into the capital were rewarded with free weekend travel with a friend anywhere on the former Great Eastern Essex network.

It meant passengers and their guests could turn up at stations for day trips cost-free and the arrangements were seen as a way of encouraging people off the road.

New operator One, which now runs all train services in East Anglia, wrote to customers earlier this year extending the deal's benefits up to Norwich for a three-month period, but this expired at the end of April.

The company, which claims few took up the free travel perk, said the free deal was not “commercially sustainable”, but denied it was abusing monopoly power.

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However, Mr Bigg, chairman of the Witham and Braintree Rail Users' Association, said his lawyers were investigating whether One had breached its contract with season ticket holders.

He added: “In any case, yet again, they have treated people with disdain and disrespect. Season ticket holders pay out thousands a year and the free weekend travel for them and a guest was one of the perks.

“People have complained to me they have recently turned up at stations expecting the perk, only to be told it was no longer valid and they've been forced to pay.

“There was no communication about it, staff at stations don't know anything and there have been no notices.”

But Peter Meades, One spokesman, insisted it had warned customers the arrangements would expire at the end of April and added a new deal would soon be introduced.

He said: “There weren't great numbers of people using the concession and it was not commercially sustainable for us to continue with it.

“We have to be consistent to all our customers and we are working on a new Seasons Direct deal in which season ticket holders will be able to get free weekend travel with One for just themselves.

“I'm not sure whether the new arrangements will be more expensive than normal - we're still working on the prices and they'll be announced soon.

“It's important to recognise that we took over an entire network of different operators to become a single operator.

“Those previous companies introduced things like Gold Cards and free weekend travel to differentiate their product from the competition.

“I don't believe there is monopoly power now - the monopoly argument is a side issue here anyway.”

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