On Saturday afternoon, I travelled on a South West Trains service to London. I put my headphones in, turned on my MP3 player (The Verve, if you are interested) and fell asleep. I`d not been asleep long when I was tapped on the shoulder by the guard, who wanted to see my ticket. Of course, I obliged, but as he disappeared down the train I was not happy that my sleep had been disturbed.
At one level, this was not unreasonable. After all, it is my duty to have a ticket, and the guard`s job to check it. But it was not a busy train and the guard passed back through the carriage several times during the remainder of the journey, so I question whether it was really necessary to ruin my nap at that point in time. After all, I have often been on trains and watched the guard leave those passengers sleeping well alone. I have also been on trains where it has been announced that "because the train is busy, if you wish to sleep please leave your ticket visible" which is not a bad idea and would have been possible if South West Trains had spent some of my ticket money on giving me a table.
But, flippancy aside, and ignoring the curtailment of my nap, I do think that South West Trains lack an understanding of good customer relations, particularly when it comes to ticketing. For example, if I get a train on the South West network, I invariably see an aggressive poster telling me that if I don`t have a ticket I`ll be fined a lot of money; I can`t help wondering if this is really necessary. Southern, for example, also operate a penalty fare scheme, and would - presumably - also fine me a lot of money if I evaded paying for my journey. But their posters are polite, unobtrusive and they (thankfully) do not adopt the attitude of making me feel like a criminal until proven innocent.
In the past, with another rail company, when I have needed to travel beyond the limits of my season ticket, I have generally had no problem buying the extra fare onboard the train (I can`t generally buy it from the machines before I travel because they are not that flexible). But South West Trains seem to think it reasonable for me to break my journey at the limit of my ticket, and buy the extra fare at the station before proceeding on the next train. Whenever that may be.
And what is it with the grumpy staff at Southampton Central station? Despite having a growing pool of unemployed people to choose from, South West Trains have seemingly been unable to find anyone who knows how to smile. I did get an apology (of sorts) on one of the occasions I was mistakenly accosted at the barrier despite having a valid ticket, but the attitude of their staff could be a lot better.
I don`t have a problem with South West Trains` desire to minimise fare evasion. But they need to learn that those of us who do willingly pay for tickets also pay their wages. A smile, some respect and an understanding of what makes for a pleasant journey go a very long way - as Southern have become quite good at demonstrating. Not only does it improve things for us as passengers, but if staff are less grumpy with us then chances are we`ll be less grumpy about them. It`s not exactly rocket science, is it?