Mar 212017
 

Computer Says NoI want to visit my Dad at the People’s History Museum next Monday, so I phoned Transpennine Express’ assisted travel line to book tickets, the wheelchair space and assistance with ramps.

The call lasted two hours.

There are no advance tickets available. This immediately rang alarm bells: it is theoretically possible that all advance purchase tickets have already sold, but usually this is a sign that seat reservations on the train haven’t opened.

Inability to book a seat is a pain for Temporarily Able-Bodied people. But at least they can fight for any of the 179 seats on the train; or (less attractively) stand. Wheelchair users can only travel in one of the two wheelchair spaces. If there are already two wheelchair users on board, we can’t travel.

Being bumped onto a later train would be a major problem, because we have to book assistance and ramps to get on and off the train 24 hours in advance. If we change our schedule there’s no guarantee the message will get through or that staff will be available to assist us.

I quote below some of the ocean of fail I unleashed by daring to attempt to book that train:

Advisor: Outbound journey: no reservable seats on either of them journeys, so it would be down to the train crew to find you seat. Me: Northern rail is non-reservable I know, but I am surprised at the Transpennine from Leeds to Manchester Victoria being non-reservable. TP Express usually is.  Advisor: Yes, it’s saying not able to reserve any seats on that one.

Me: Okay. Well I’m not happy to travel without booking the wheelchair space. Please find out what is up and ask somebody to sort it? I know the wheelchair space isn’t reservable on Northern Rail but they are on TP Express. Advisor: Yes. It’s not letting us book it at all. No availability. It’s just showing no availability on our system. If you still want me to put the booking through, that would be down to you if you got there and the seats weren’t available.

Me: I want to know please whether it is a technical problem or if it is that both wheelchair spaces are already booked by other wheelchair users. Advisor: No not a technical problem, just cannot book any seats from Leeds to Manchester Victoria at all on our system. Me: No seats either? Not just the wheelchair space? Advisor: No, no seats at all, nothing.

TransPenninge Booking site showing "reservations available".

Yet the Transpennine Express website states: “Reservations available“.

This makes me suspect that reservations are supposed to be available but aren’t available because of a fault.

Me: Please get on to whomever can find out why that train isn’t reservable, find out why it’s not reservable, get them to sort the problem so I can book the wheelchair space. Advisor: There is no way we can make the journey become available for booking when its showing no availability. … Nobody at Transpennine Express will be able to book you a seat on that particular journey because they all got the same system as me. Me: Why is it unreservable? Why have Transpennine made it unreservable? Advisor: It’s just a non reservable service on that train. We cannot reserve any seats on it at all. Me: I know. Why is it unreservable? Why have Transpennine made all the seats on that train unreservable? What’s the problem? Advisor: Some journeys are just like that cannot reserve seats on them. That’s just the way the booking system is. Me: That doesn’t answer. Why is that train unreservable? What is the problem? Advisor: There is no answer for that im afraid. It’s just that some services are unreservable.

I was thinking perhaps if there aren’t wheelchair users on it, and it’s just unreservable because of a cock-up, I could either persuade them to sort it out or chance it on the day.

The “discussion” went on for some time, until she passed me to her manager. I repeatedly asked him whether the wheelchair spaces are unavailable because they had already been booked by other people.  However the manager refused point-blank, for “data protection” reasons.

Me: She said the whole train is non-reservable; that’s clearly a problem your end because your own website says that seats are reservable. I want to know for definite whether it’s non-reservable due to some technical problem or because somebody your end has made the whole train non-reservable or if it is because the spaces are already gone. Manager: Okay, so all I will confirm at this point is that no availability on that train. Me: why is the train non-reservable? is it definitely the case that the wheelchair spaces are already reserved by wheelchair users? Manager: There is no availability for us to reserve any seats. Me: Why is the train non-reservable? Is it definitely the case that the wheelchair spaces are already reserved by wheelchair users? It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Manager: I cannot give you travel details of other passengers on that train unfortunately. Me: You can find out though whether the wheelchair spaces will already be occupied. I don’t want travel details of other passengers on the train, I just want to be certain that this isn’t just due to some technical or booking failure that has made the whole train non-reservable when in fact the wheelchair spaces are not engaged. Manager: The spaces currently have no availability. We cannot share the details of other customers who have booked those spaces.

Me: At no point have I asked you to share the details of other passengers’ journeys. I just want you to tell me categorically that the wheelchair spaces are already occupied for the journey I would like to do. Manager: That would be passing on info in respect of other customers travel arrangements, therefore I cannot give it you. Me: No it wouldn’t, it would be simply telling me whether the spaces are reserved or not. If I phone up a cinema and try to book a wheelchair space, they tell me, the wheelchair space is free, or somebody has already reserved it, or they tell me there’s a tech problem that means they can’t reserve it or there’s some maintenance issue or something. Asking whether a wheelchair space is reserved or not is not asking for details of other customers travel arrangements. I just want to know whether the wheelchair space is showing as unavailable because the whole train has been made non-reservable or some other such problem, or if it is because they are occupied for part or all of the journey I want to do. That is not sharing anything about other passenger’s journeys.

He still refused. Manager: As I said earlier, I cannot confirm anything about other customers’ bookings or reservations, this will be a breach of their confidentiality. And later: Manager: I cannot give you info from other customers.

Other juicy bits:

Me: I would like to speak to your manager please. You can do that, what you mean is you will not, you are refusing. Manager: I will arrange for a call back from manager, which is normal process, however as this is Typetalk service I would be unable to arrange that with you.

Me: Your advisor earlier said that the whole service is non-reservable, that she is unable to book any seats at all, not just the wheelchair space. Manager: The rest of the train is really irrelevant because all we are talking about here is wheelchair space, unless you want to book a normal seat.  Me: If the whole train is unreservable then it’s clearly something that is up your end with the bookings. Is the whole train unreservable for some reason?

He never answered that either, though to be fair he did state categorically that there were no technical or organisational reasons why he would be unable to book the wheelchair spaces. Here’s the whole transcript with the exception of certain identifying details. (NB: I’ve cleaned the text relay output a lot but it’s still pretty hideous and inaccessible I’m afraid.)

Sometimes I think being disabled should come with a full-time secretary, solicitor and a baseball bat. (For relieving tensions on a baseball – I don’t do physical violence.)

I shall ask the Information Commissioner to assess this… unusual interpretation of approach to data protection.

I have little confidence that everything will go right on Monday. I am dreading it. I shall take careful note of the booking status of the spaces…


ADDENDUM the following day

This morning:

This afternoon:

They’ve booked the wheelchair space. So the space evidently wasn’t booked by a wheelchair user and there evidently was a technical or organisational reason why they didn’t book it.

It gives the wheelchair space reservation, but still says “no seats reserverd”… still not confidence-inspiring.


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