ANDY HAMILTON, managing director of Wrexham & Shropshire railway company, explains why he has today issued a "use it or lose it" plea to passengers
Many businesses are feeling the squeeze of the recession and the rail industry is no exception.
When my team and I launched a much-needed direct rail service from Shropshire to London Marylebone back in April 2008, we had a vision of a train company that offered a comfortable travelling environment for passengers coupled with excellent customer service and value for money.
I think we have achieved that, and the passengers here in Shropshire tell us as much almost daily. Our commitment to service has also been independently recognised: earlier this year we scored the highest rating for passenger satisfaction - 99 per cent - ever scored by a UK train company, in a survey carried out by Passenger Focus, the independent rail watchdog.
But we are not complacent. We recognise that we need to keep listening to our customers - particularly as we operate as an open access business (without government subsidy), which means that our success and even our survival depends on being able to keep enticing people out of their cars and onto our trains.
Like all businesses, Wrexham & Shropshire is not immune to economic pressures, such as the recession and rising fuel costs. Despite loyal customers and consistent week-on-week growth in terms of passenger numbers, we are still not making the profit we need to safeguard the future of our rail service. That is why we have taken the difficult decision to make changes to some of our fares from mid September.
From September 20, there will now be two standard fares: semi flexible and fully flexible. The fully flexible ticket will be valid on all trains — the semi flexible ticket on all trains with the exception of the 05:52 Shrewsbury to Marylebone, and the 16:30 Marylebone to Shrewsbury (both Monday — Friday). We will also continue to have discounted Advance tickets available on every train.
We have decided to increase fares in this way as it will affect only a very small minority of our customers. Put in context, this means that there will be no increase in fares on 44 out of the 54 trains we run each week. Passengers on these trains will enter 2011 with us having not having increased fares at all in the three years we have been operating - unprecedented for a train company.
Even though our fully flexible prices are still nearly 70 per cent lower than the equivalent Virgin ticket to Euston (and we will continue to offer our excellent value £120 first class fare), this has still been a tough decision.
"We would much rather have never had to increase any of our prices - but that would not be realistic for any business. All our passengers are important to us, which is why this news is coming direct from me.
My team, most of whom are local, and I remain committed to providing you with a quality service and innovations such as 'ticket by text', that you tell us make your journeys easier and more pleasant.
To do that, we are relying on your continued support to ensure that the train service we offer remains busy and open for business. My message is simple: we will keep offering you a great service, but please keep using it or there's a risk you may lose it.