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Train Tares and Ticketing (HC 700-ii)

Transport Committee 30 Nov 2005

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Evidence given by Mr David Mapp, Commercial Director, and Mr Paul Smith, Director (London), Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC); Mr Tony Collins, Chief Executive, and Mr Graham Leech, Executive Director (Commercial), Virgin Trains; and Mr Christopher Garnett, Chief Executive, GNER.Derek Twigg, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, and Mr Mark Smith, Manager, Fares and Ticketing & Passenger Benefits Team, Department for Transport.

Q235 Mr. David Clelland: On the subject of call centres, do your call centres prioritise callers on the basis of the average credit rating in the area they are calling from?

Mr Collins: Absolutely not, absolutely not.

Mr Leech: It is entirely first come, first served. Whoever is next in the queue is answered. The only reason that any information like postcodes is kept is for credit card billing and for delivery of tickets. It also means that if somebody is calling back again, because they often make the same sort of journey, that information is readily available and it means the call is quicker and the service is better for everybody concerned, but there is absolutely no preference whatsoever according to where people live or their credit rating.

Mr Garnett: The only issue we have, knowing where your constituency is and the call centre we have in the middle of Newcastle, is that there are some postcodes where we do not send tickets because we get a very high rate of theft of tickets or credit card fraud and that has been on the advice of police not to deal with certain areas because of that.

Q236 Chairman: Are your customers aware of that?

Mr Garnett: I would doubt it. Those who are trying to fiddle the system undoubtedly are aware of it because we then ----

Q237 Chairman: So they come on the line and they ask for all this information, say they want to buy a ticket and you say, "No, sorry, you are living in the wrong place"?

Mr Garnett: No, we say, "We're sorry, we're not despatching tickets to that place because there has been such a level missing", and this is on the advice of police.

Chairman: That must go down well!

Q238 Mr. David Clelland: So you do have the technology, and presumably Virgin do as well, to discriminate in that way if you chose to?

Mr Garnett: We do not know the postcode of the incoming call. It is only when you have gone through it and you ask for the postcode that then we have to go into retreat.

Q239 Mr. David Clelland: Is there any other way that you discriminate against customers ringing call centres?

Mr Leech: No, we do not. It is a straightforward service where we want to provide calls and answer them as quickly as we can and there is no discrimination; it is first come, first served.

Mr Mapp: I think these questions follow on from Mr Crow's remarks to the Committee last week. Following that, I have checked with all the major telesales retailers of rail and none of them uses the technology that Mr Crow was referring to. I have checked and it does exist technically, you can buy software of the kind he describes, but we do not use it.


Q274 Mr. David Clelland: Are you satisfied that the railway system has the capacity to make any appreciable difference to moving people from car to rail in terms of relieving congestion?

Derek Twigg: If you look at the route that I use and the Chairman uses in terms of the west coast, there clearly has been a significant change in the service and the attractiveness of that service in terms of getting a greater number of people onto the railway, including many business people. I believe there is the capacity needed in many parts of the system and by improving and investing in the railway then of course we can see more people using it. On the other hand, I accept there are various capacity constraints around the network and clearly there will be challenges for us in the future. The high level output specification which we will be discussing and bringing forward in the next year or two, as to what the Secretary of State would want from the railway, is something we are going to have to consider. There are many issues around capacity in terms of longer platforms or longer trains or better utilisation of the current routes, better timetabling, etcetera. There are many, many things you can do.

Q275 Mr. David Clelland: All those potential improvements sound great. In the north-east of England for instance, where we do have a lot of road congestion problems which we are struggling with at the moment, we are threatened with closures and cutbacks in rail services. How is that going to help the modal shift we are looking for?

Derek Twigg: On railways, in terms of capacity, there is always a balance to be struck. There is always this issue around fast trains and slower trains and local services. What we need to do, in terms of how we plan and think ahead on the railways, is to think about how we can get the best capacity for the most number of passengers. There is always a conflict in this. When we are talking about the amount of money we are putting into the railways and that size of investment then clearly we need to make sure that is well targeted and able to meet the capacity demands.

Chairman: I am sorry; I have to adjourn the Committee.

The Committee suspended from 4.01pm to 4.09pm for a division in the House

Q276 Mr. David Clelland: The Secretary of State made a recent visit to Tyneside to talk about the use of the Transport Innovation Fund and ways of relieving congestion and we are always keen to co-operate and do something about that, but it does not help when the Highways Agency are not being particularly co-operative and when we are also facing cutbacks in rail services from Carlisle to Newcastle and elsewhere in the region. If the Department is serious about encouraging people to get out of their cars and get onto the trains then that is not going to help, is it?

Derek Twigg: As I tried to make clear earlier, we have obviously a fast growing railway, there is a great deal of investment going into it and a rising number of passengers. It is about a balance in terms of capacity, freight, passengers and fast services against slower services. It is about working with the biggest amounts of resource to get the biggest impact where the greatest demand is. There are always tensions there in terms of the decisions you make and it is very important to be aware of that in terms of planning and the decisions that can be taken. Clearly there are always many demands on the rail system and there are demands in your region which you have been pursuing. We have to strike a balance between the availability of resources and where we direct that to and the demand.

Q277 Mr. David Clelland: The Secretary of State is asking the local councillors and the local transport authorities to be innovative and find new ways of relieving congestion. Should the Department not be a bit more innovative and look at ways of keeping these rail lines rather than cutting them?

Derek Twigg: We do consult on these things. We work with the PTAs and local councils and clearly if they have ideas for investment in the railways and a business case can be delivered then we will look at it.

Q278 Chairman: The Transport Ten Year Plan said that you intended to increase rail use from 2000 levels by 50 per cent by 2010. Mr Clelland is saying to you, if that is the case, because you certainly have given the investment, what about the capacity?

Derek Twigg: There are going to be a number of challenges for us on capacity.

Q279 Chairman: So you have not dropped the target, you still intend to hit that 50 per cent level by 2010, do you?

Derek Twigg: We still intend to grow the capacity of the railways.

Q280 Mr. David Clelland: But not in the North East.

Derek Twigg: That is not the case. Whichever region it may be there will be issues in terms of the capacity, where we put resources and there may be some decisions which some people will not like. We have not got an infinite amount of resources. We have got to make the best use of those resources. By improving efficiencies, by making sure that is well-targeted and by working together maybe with local councils and the Passenger Transport Executives we may be able to find other ways of bringing in money as well.

Q281 Mr. David Clelland: Are you aware if the Department has had any discussions about this problem in the North East in terms of cutbacks in local rail services?

Derek Twigg: There have been discussions in the Regional Planning Assessment phase. A draft has been shared with some people in the North East and clearly discussions have taken place. We are always willing to talk to people in the regions and have discussions with them about rail issues.

Q282 Mr. David Clelland: So it is possible that these decisions might be reviewed, is it?

Derek Twigg: I am not quite clear which specific decision you are talking about.

Q283 Mr. David Clelland: There are one or two dotted around.

Derek Twigg: There are a number of issues that have been aired that could come about at some point in the future. In terms of decisions regarding the Regional Planning Assessment, those have not been taken and it will be a guide as to the way forward. Clearly there are some tough decisions you have to make at times in terms of where you direct resources and where capacity demands are the greatest.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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