Struggling train firm National Express East Coast (NXEC) has become the first rail company in recent times to charge passengers for booking a seat.
At this stage it must be stressed that the £2.50 fee applies only to passengers who book flexible standard class tickets. It will not apply to first class passengers or anyone booking one of the cheaper Advance tickets.
It starts on May 17 and will affect those passengers who must book seats on overcrowded trains. NXEC’s network covers routes from London Kings Cross to Yorkshire, the Northeast and Scotland.
NXEC’s move has been condemned by rail users’ watchdog Passenger Focus. In a statement, chief executive Anthony Smith said “We are very opposed to this. It is a back door price rise and is taking the railways down the route of the bucket shop airlines with the operator piling on charges at every opportunity.”
The new seat fees follow hard on the heels of NXEC’s decision to raise some Advance fares by up to 11 per cent this month. This follows on from last January’s rise which, added together, means Advance fares have risen by up to 18.4 per cent over the past six months.
Says a NXEC spokesman, “Some Advance fares are changing but not all of them. Some in fact are going down while others remain the same.” NXEC says it is softening the blow by bringing back the 10 per cent online booking discount for passengers using its website.
Both moves can be seen as a cash-raising exercise. NXEC is struggling to pay the government franchise fees of £1.4 billion by 2015. According to the railway press, NXEC needs to grow revenue by 10 per cent a year in order to pay its franchise bills.
There was no problem earning that sort of cash last year but 2009 has seen revenue growth collapse during the recession. Passengers numbers remain healthy but revenue has fallen as they either downgrade or seek cheaper Advance tickets.
For more information visit nationalexpresseastcoast.com.
Report by Alex McWhirter