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Rail firm 'is mugging passengers' claim

PUBLISHED: 17:45 12 May 2009 | UPDATED: 09:30 06 July 2010

Train operator National Express has been accused of "mugging" passengers by introducing charges for reserving a seat.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said the move was "outrageous" and warned that it could spark abuse of booking office staff.

Train operator National Express has been accused of “mugging” passengers by introducing charges for reserving a seat.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said the move was “outrageous” and warned that it could spark abuse of booking office staff.

From Sunday passengers with “walk-up” tickets will be charged £2.50 per single and £5 per return ticket to reserve a seat on its Norwich to London Liverpool Street and East Coast inter-city services.

A National Express spokesman said: “We want to improve the on-board environment for our customers. We do find that people are often reserving multiple seats as they're not sure which train they are going to catch.

“Whilst we understand this, by asking people to pay for a seat reservation, seats will no longer be left empty with a reserved sign, therefore being made available for other customers to use.”

But TSSA said it was the highest seat-booking charge ever imposed by a private rail company. Booking clerks told the union they were so worried about the reaction from passengers that they had warned management they expect regular abuse when they ask for the extra cash.

“All staff will face regular abuse, especially when passengers are spending £223 for an open ticket and then have to pay £5 on top or when a family of four want to reserve four seats and told they will pay an extra £20,” warns an internal memo from members in York.

Gerry Doherty, the union's general secretary said: “This is an outrageous imposition on millions of passengers and amounts to the fourth increase in overall prices in just five months.

“What National Express is now saying to passengers is that, if you want to be sure of sitting down on their trains for a return journey, then you will have to pay an extra £5 for a return journey or £2.50 for a single.

“That is simply mugging passengers for an extra fiver, and it will hit the elderly and families the hardest. They cannot risk being forced to stand on long journeys from Newcastle to London and therefore they will be forced to pay the extra.

“If we had a shred of confidence in Geoff Hoon, we would ask him to intervene. But as he is the worst Transport Secretary we have ever had to deal with, we are not hopeful.”

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said: “This is another example of National Express bleeding passengers dry in the drive to prop up their profits.

“The sooner the railways are free from this privatised daylight robbery the better and that's why we are stepping up RMT's campaign for renationalisation.”

The charges will apply to standard ticket types including anytime, off-peak, super off-peak and weekenders, but not to advance purchase, first class and season tickets, or to assisted passengers and customers with a disabled railcard.

Nor will they apply to local services, including the Bittern and Wherry lines, the Norwich to Cambridge service, Stansted Express, and other services into Liverpool Street.

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