Virgin Trains just emailed me and asked how my journey went yesterday and whether I was likely to recommend their service.
I gave them 3 on 10.
We're sorry that we didn't deliver a great service for you. Could you tell us, in your own words, why you gave us that score?
I travelled as a wheelchair-using passenger in the Standard Class wheelchair space. (Coach F). The wheelchair space on the left side of the carriage places me in line with the aisle as it passes the accessible toilet, making my space a bottleneck. Passengers were continually brushing past me and with no door between carriage and vestibule space the environment was so noisy I could not hear announcements, safety or otherwise. The right hand Standard Class wheelchair space, which does not have these drawbacks, was occupied by a non-disabled passenger for the entire trip. (And passengers were being encouraged to place bulky luggage in the space a chair would have had to occupy had one boarded at York).
Additionally the accessible toilet was out of service for my entire trip of almost three hours, including the nearly two hour fast section between York and Kings Cross. I recognise that mechanical failures will occasionally happen, but none of the on-train staff thought to check whether the lack of a an accessible toilet was an issue for me. Given that a disabled passenger being forced to wet themselves through lack of an accessible toilet had been national headline news within the past week (even if with another TOC), this reflects poorly on Virgin East Coast's standards of customer care.
If it is not already policy that train staff should check with wheelchair using passengers if the accessible toilet is out of action, then it needs to be made so urgently.
I would also suggest that if a train has a wheelchair passenger due to board, and an out of service onboard toilet, the message be passed ahead to station passenger assistance staff and the passenger offered the options of i) being boarded in the other class if the wheelchair space is available (obviously with a refund in the case of a First Class passenger forced to travel Standard Class), ii) travelling by a later train, iii) opting not to travel and receiving a full refund.
It rather boggles the mind that on a previous journey on-train staff specifically approached me to offer to fetch and carry for me as the trolley service was out of action, but on this trip didn't even speak to me when the accessible toilet was out of action, no matter that at least two interacted directly with me during the ticket check.
If you have any other comments or feedback please type them in the box below.On my prior journey to Darlington I received an offer of an upgrade to First Class for £20, with instructions to approach the Guard on the train to see if space is available. There appears to have been no thought to how this offer would work, or rather fail to, for a wheelchair-using passenger. By the time I have boarded it is impossible for me to upgrade to 1st Class because I cannot move through the train, nor can I move through the train to locate the guard to enquire if there is space for me to take up the offer.
As there is only a single First Class wheelchair space, in comparison with several carriages of non-wheelchair First Class spaces, the overwhelming likelihood is that wheelchair passengers are much less likely to be able to avail themselves of this offer than non-wheelchair using passengers.
Equally, to the best of my knowledge there are two Standard Class wheelchair spaces, but only a single First Class wheelchair space. If both Standard Class wheelchair passengers have received the offer, the Guard could be faced with two people requesting upgrade to the same single space at exactly the same moment. There appears to have been no thought whatsoever as to how the offer would function for a wheelchair-using passenger.
The offer can only function in a fair and equitable manner for wheelchair-using passengers if they have the same likelihood of being able to access it as non-wheelchair-users. It cannot work for them at all if they must wait to contact on train staff, and needs to be modified so that they can approach station passenger assistance staff instead in order to be boarded in the appropriate carriage.
As the system stands, Virgin East Coast are running offers that can only be used by non-wheelchair-using passengers, which constitutes direct disability discrimination and places the offer in violation of the Equality Act 2010.