24 January 2018
Interim Victory for the Sleeper Campaign - Singles Sharing to continue until October
The pressure of enquiries directed towards Serco / Caledonian Sleeper by Julian Paren and others about the reasons given for the proposed withdrawal of the singles sharing option and railcard discounts for shared cabins, and the doubtful legitimacy of these changes under the terms of the franchise agreement, bore fruit this week with the receipt of near-identical letters from Keith Wallace, Managing Director of Caledonian Sleeper, and the Serco 'Media Team'.
After several paragraphs of unconvincing attempts to justify the proposed changes on the grounds that consultation with 'a wide range of stakeholders' (entirely unsupported by evidence) had revealed an adverse public perception of the current service, and some highly dubious arguments and figures about optimum occupancy, we come to the crucial concession
"The transitional fares arrangement is a temporary measure to ensure that we can continue to retail tickets until we establish a date for the introduction of the new fleet. Now that these dates are known for the Lowland service, we are able to withdraw transitional fares on the 26th February on those routes, meaning that the fares system will revert to products for existing fleet (meaning the re-instatement of ‘share with a stranger’ in Standard class) for travel dates up to the introduction of the new fleet before switching to the new fares structure in October 2018. On the Highland service, as we know that service introduction will be later, we revert to existing fares structures, but will use transitional fares after October 2018 until such time as we can definitively state the introduction date for the Highland. As always, these plans may change as circumstances change but we will not, under any circumstances, risk consumers not being able to travel in the class of service they have bought."
Sounds great! So you can now lift the phone or go online and book a sleeper journey after 25 February with the singles sharing option and get the discount you expect with your Railcard? No you can not. We understand that because of the time required to update national booking systems it will not be possible for single passengers to book shared accommodation for travel on or after 25 February, before that date, either online or by phone.
But if you book before 25 February, will you be able to change your booking once the booking system has caught up? The only information we have received about this so far is contained in the following extract from an email to Julian from the Serco media team, so we are currently seeking more robust assurances from Caledonian Sleeper's Managing Director.
"This [reverting to the standard fare structure] will be happening as soon as possible, from late February 2018, as there are a number of changes that need to take place in the UK rail national reservation system to prevent unintended consequences. We will be providing information in due course with full details for guests who wish to change bookings."
A number of important questions arise from all this
Would these unwelcome changes have been withdrawn (or at least postponed) if we had not run this campaign; and was there indeed some (unadmitted) lack of legitimacy in relation to the terms of the franchise agreement that caused the climbdown?
Why is it all so secretive? Where were the advertisements and press releases announcing the proposed changes, or invitations to consult and evidence of the consultation supposed to have taken place? Where is the media information now announcing the change of policy or the announcement on the www.sleeper.scot website? The only publicity of any kind has been Serco's press release of 16 January, trumpeting the arrival of the new trains – six months late.
What happens after October? Will it be possible to tip the balance in favour of the view of the sleeper as a convenient and comfortable method of travel, rather than an up-market 'journey experience', and ensure the retention of the singles sharing option and full railcard discounts for the long term? The answer to that is probably constant vigilance and more hard work.
Read Julian's reply to the letter from Keith Wallace and the Serco media team, with his paragraph by paragraph responses.
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