We can arrive to work in style or not at all thanks to the new policy changes being put in place at Virgin Trains. The train operator has recently announced, (albeit rather quietly), a new change in the way railcards can be used. People using railcards will no longer be allowed to purchase a peak time ticket at off peak prices. Virgin's official statement says:
"We're making one change to the use of Railcards on Virgin Trains services. Railcard holders travelling on Peak trains on the Virgin Trains network along the West Coast Mainline will need to buy an Advance ticket for travel at Peak times or an Anytime ticket to get your Railcard discount. Off-Peak, Railcard discounted tickets will no longer be valid on Peak services."
Particular attention needs to be paid to anyone, who has a (16-25) Young Persons railcard and how this very sudden turn in policy will negatively impact many who use this railcard to subsidise their means of travel in order to get to work using peak time services.
The detrimental effects this 'one change' will have is overwhelming. As a recent graduate who cannot afford to live in London, I am disgruntled to find out my daily commute to work in London from my hometown of Rugby on an open return is trebling in price from £27.60 a day to £86, more than my entire daily wage.
I am not alone, The Guardian reports anyone commuting from Nuneaton, another town situated on the major Western Coast rail line, will see their fares go from £28.10 to £97 a day. Whilst Hannah Young's open letter to Sir Richard Branson states that a return from Birmingham to London will now set her back £110.90 as opposed to the original £34.15 cost. Weekly passes are also not an option as these do not accept railcards and commuters should not be forced to buy a seven day travel pass when often only travelling five days a week.
The new policy is justified on the ground that anyone with this railcards will still be eligible for their 1/3 discount, a redundant argument when you take into account this discount will now be applied to a massively higher fare. This policy is specifically targeting a number of younger people who are more likely to be in lower paid jobs, are probably up to their eyes in debt from going to university to get a degree they spent thousands studying for, and consequently, cannot afford these absurd prices. This is a disgraceful attempt at Virgin gaining more profits at the expense of its young loyal commuters, who now have to face the prospect of potentially looking for a new job closer to home - all at two weeks' notice.
Hopes that our government may step in to deal with the situation are dashed when our very own Prime Minister was making bold claims on his twitter last week "it's good news that inflation remains low. Low prices and rising wages show our economic plan is giving working people more security". So I therefore started an online petition to highlight how unfair virgin are being in penalising young people this way.
This is a threat to people's careers as many can no longer afford to travel to jobs they worked so hard getting and most likely forcing them to become unemployed.
Credit to Virgin for being the only rail company to offer this deal, however, the company that prides itself on being better than anyone else has now conformed to other train operator's standards of removing this privilege. This is completely at odds to the year 2012 when they made a big deal over the fact they lost their contract for the Western Coast rail line to FirstGroup. The company went to lengths to win it back, calling on the Department for Transport to urgently review the situation. They even made an e-petition which detailed 50 reasons as to why Virgin should win back the west coast line. Crucially, reason number 29 in their words is: "We're the only company that offers deals for customers with railcards during peak time travel"; many of us doing relatively lower paid jobs in London only applied for them in the first place because we researched train fares and found this commitment from Virgin, which made commuting just about affordable. There is no realistic prospect for many of us to continue in our jobs with these massive, unexpected price rises implemented with almost no notice.
I want Virgin to be held accountable to their actions and realise the plight its young commuters are now facing. I believe signing my petition will highlight how farcical this policy is and we can hope they reconsider the future of railcards.
Anyone who wishes to sign my petition can do so here