Virgin's 2012 '50 Reasons' dissected
Back when Virgin lost the 2012 West Coast franchise they decided to push really hard for the franchise award to be revoked. After mass outcry the government decided there had been irregularities in the franchising process and that Virgin would keep running it in the interim without a formal franchise bid, this has since been extended until 2017. Not bad for a franchise they never won. As part of the propaganda they produced a document entitled '50 reasons to sign the Virgin Trains e-Petition'. It's the biggest pile of sickening marketing drivel imaginable, but I thought I'd take a look at each of the 50 points
1. We have transformed the West Coast Mainline, from a struggling relic to the most frequent long-distance service in Europe. (London - Manchester and London - Birmingham, both every 20 minutes). This was done with some of the highest levels of government subsidy and investment in the line by Network Rail. Virgin Trains originally promised 140 MPH running, but it never went beyond 125 MPH, the same as East Coast
2. Were not just a Train company, were a customer service company that runs trains. What does that even mean? Their customer service handling is nothing special.
3. We care about our staff and our customers. Again meaningless. You care your staff come into work and your customers hand over their cash
4. We have the fastest trains and were getting quicker. We've slashed journey times - Manchester is now two hours eight minutes from London, down from two hours 30 minutes. All East Coast trains are capable of 125 MPH and the 225 trains are capable of 140 MPH but like the west coast are restricted to 125 MPH. Kings Cross - York is about the same distance as Euston - Manchester and the journey takes under 2 hours on most trains.
5. We believe that an investment in your staff is an investment in the future. What does this mean? Don't pay staff, they go home, you have no company?
6. Best for value for money. East Coast is generally cheaper for comparable routes (e.g. London - York compared with London - Manchester)
7. Best rated staff. Again entirely subjective.
8. Best for customer satisfaction. They do rate highly in the satisfaction surveys but they rarely make number one
9. We'd invest more in the new franchise than anyone else. That's not what the franchise bids said, but making baseless claims somehow makes it true?
10. We have stuck with the franchise through thick and thin, never walking away. The government actually teared up their franchise in 2002, the toughest time on the railway, and gave them a risk free management contract. They had no reason to walk away because they weren't taking any commercial risks, the government funded it
11. We listen to customers and always try to improve. "We don't want Nectar!" Next
12. Every long distance operator tries to copy us. Very few actually do. None of the other long distance services seem to be an attempt to copy Virgin.
13. We were the first to give its customers internet booking. This might be true. However, GNER introduced the WebTIS booking engine in 2007 which was a major improvement in online ticketing and is now used by many other companies while Virgin (West Coast) is still using the dated interface of Thetrainline
14. We were the first to give its customers single journeys ticketing. Unable to verify this
15. We give customers higher compensation when things do go wrong. FALSE: their compensation is the same as other long distance franchises Delay Repay. If you can't find a seat when you've reserved on the East Coast seat guarantee gives you a full refund in vouchers, Virgin Trains (West Coast) only gives you 5% back in vouchers. At the time they wrote this it was even worse, at the time Virgin wasn't participating in Delay Repay and would only compensate 25% for an hour delay. The East Coast had offered the higher level of compensation for a number of years. There's no truth at all in this.
16. Our staff are passionate about great customer service. This I can believe, most west coast staff are good, but then so are the ones on east coast. Those same good staff would have worked on the next franchise too/
17. We've invested more in new trains than any other operator. They invested more in government subsidy leasing trains (they don't own them)
18. The Virgin brand is a byword for quality across the globe. As a former Virgin Media customer I disagree
19. We have staff who love their jobs and it shows in everything they do. Good staff are not a unique thing to the franchise
20. We think outside the box and dare to go where others fear to tread. Examples?
21. We love taking you around the country and want to keep doing it! I didn't realise you loved me being on your trains so much. Send me a free ticket or two ;)
22. 15 years ago people called it Mission Impossible, we read it as I'm possible. It would have been Mission Impossible if you'd not renegotiated the contract with the government
23. You are as much a part of Virgin Trains as we are. I can tell as you're taking that feedback about Nectar so seriously
24. We were the first train company to win an Investors in People award. LIE: GNER received theirs in 2000, Virgin got theirs in 2007
25. Because you have a voice and can make a difference. That's what I'm trying to do here
26. Were always looking to connect with our customers in any way possible, look at our ever increasing social media presence. First Great Western @FGW joined Twitter in July 2008, @VirginTrains joined Twitter in August 2009
27. It'll take less than two minutes to make a difference for 15 years. Yes, it was a shame people fell for this and signed the petition
28. We dont just run trains, we also made over 500,000 for charity last year. Although I'm unsure of the exact amount East Coast raised a significant amount for charity last year, including by putting on special charity train services. Charity is not unique to Virgin
29. Were the only train company that offers deals for customers with railcards during peak time travel. This offer was only introduced in December 2011, even though they had the franchise since 1997. It seems to have been planned to be introduced a few months before the franchise ended to give the passengers a better impression of Virgin
30. 60,000 people want to work for us, from over 30 different countries, and were always looking for the best people to do so. Many people applying for jobs is not a rare thing
31. Our state-of-the art electric Pendolino trains are environmentally friendly emitting at least 76% less CO2 than cars and 78% less than domestic flights. Probably true, newer trains are more energy efficient
32. Weve recently added capacity on our services to increase standard seating by 50%. Standard class on the Pendolino was too small to begin with. Having 4 first class coaches is overkill and then there's a shop that takes up more space than the average buffet. You could say that the trains were either ordered too short or with too much first class. The Voyager trains (4-5 car) were definitely too short
33. If you like what we did in the last 15 years you should see what we've got planned for the next 15. Past performance (not that it was really that impressive) is no guide to the future
34. Virgin Trains has recently been named best train operator by Which? Magazine, and is top of the long-distance train franchises by the independent National Passenger Survey. It's very close, but last year Grand Central came top of the Which passenger survey
35. For the second time in three years, Virgin Trains received the coveted Favourite Rail Operator award at the prestigious Globe Travel awards, which recognises excellence among international hotel groups, travel operators and package holiday companies.The award was decided by customers rather than a panel of judges. These awards always have some questionable results. This is because customers often have limited experiences so can't compare like for like
36. We dont follow the pack, we lead it. There's many times when you've trailed the pack too. It's rare that Virgin is the first at anything.
37. We offered free travel to military personnel on all our services, in recognition of their contribution to ensuring security. Note the past tense: offered. They offered free travel to military personnel during the 2012 Olympics period only.
38. The public trusts us for a reason, because we have earned that trust by time and time again delivering the Virgin difference. I didn't trust you much before, even less so after I read this for the first time in 2012, now I know on East Coast the Virgin difference is going to be cutbacks
39. Scotland would have a far greater choice of services under our next franchise, creating a hub at Motherwell. That was 2012, it's now 2015 and there's been no more talk of a Motherwell rail hub
40. Weve proved time and again we can deliver what we promise. zzzzzzzzzzz
41. Virgin Trains has been awarded two Kitemarks by the British Standards Institute (BSI). A first-ever for a UK train company, for its tangible efforts to reduce energy consumption on trains and at stations. true I believe, although not sure if they were the first ever
42. We will always fight for what is best for the customer. Not in my experience
43. If we get 100,000 signatures the government will discuss the issue in parliament. More's the pity you got that many to sign it
44. We build our franchises on growth not cuts. ...and the Virgin Trains East Coast franchise starts off with a cut on day 1
45. We didnt have to be an Olympic partner to provide a gold medal winning service for athletes and customers alike. That's a dig at British Airways sponsorship of the Olympic games, not sure why it's a reason to support Virgin
46. We take everyone from Olympians and Paralympians to Brad and Angelina, to a little old lady going to see her grandchildren, you're all VIPs to us. Does that mean I get a free upgrade in First Class? Can my Chauffeur drive up to the train door to pick me up?
47.This isnt our network, it is not the government's, it is yours and it deserves to be run responsibly and with the best interests of the customer and the country at its very core. Can I have it back then?
48. Virgin Trains has spent 15 years getting you where you need to go but this time we need your help. ...but this time people of the East Coast we need to say no to mediocrity. They need to earn our respect
This is sending me off to sleep, this list could have been condensed into '10 questionable reasons'
49. People think what we do is easy, until they try and copy it. You can teach anyone to do a job but you cant teach somebody to care. We care.
50. Virgin Trains is not just a company it is part of a Virgin group, which shares a vision. A vision that continues to be innovative and daring and which strives constantly to showcase the true greatness of Britain. We strive to achieve this by empowering our employees to continually deliver an unbeatable customer experience.
And one more for luck...
51. In the time it takes for you and 41 and a half of your friends to complete this petition we could have taken you from Birmingham to London Euston.