This is the first of two posts about an interaction with VIA Rail. Today’s post will focus on what transpired:
When travellers from the Toronto area want to take a short haul trip to such places as Ottawa, Montreal, or even New York City, the debate about the mode of transportation begins. It is usually narrowed down to car or plane, quickly excluding bus and train. Why is this? There are probably many reasons for the final choice, including cost, comfort, time and convenience.
Near the end of the snowy season in the GTA this year, my wife needed to take a trip to Montreal. Since it would be a dangerous drive, the car was eliminated as an option. The price of a VIA Rail ticket was slightly higher than the cost of a flight. Due to the impeding snow storm, and since we had a new born that would travel with her, we decided on safety and comfort, over cost and convenience.
The trip to Montreal was uneventful. On the return, the train was delayed but eventually departed. An exceptionally slow ride took place with several unscheduled stops occurring due to an engine failure. After a 5 hour trip, they had only travelled about 100 km at which point the VIA staff decided to shut down the train for the night.
While train breakdowns do happen, a company is defined by how they handle adversity. Nothing (food, drinks, etc.) was offered to the stranded passengers. After the announcement that the passengers would be leaving the train for busses, the VIA staff disappeared for about 2 hours. It was obvious to the passengers that the staff did not want to deal with irate customers.
This total lack of concern, empathy, and consideration was unexpected. While the highest priority was getting the customers to their final destination, the disrespect demonstrated by the staff made a bad situation even worse.
With an infant in one arm and a suitcase in the other, my wife was offered no assistance by any VIA staff members to leave the train or when boarding a bus hours later. The main purpose of using the train was to stay off the dangerous roads!
After a 15 hour trip, my wife and baby finally made it to Toronto. Since it was the early hours of the morning, there was no city transit service and few options available.
My wife spent the better part of twenty minutes in a discussion about providing assistance to get home. Finally a VIA staff member provided her a free cab ride but, according to her, “only because you have a baby.” They finally noticed!
In my next post I will review the result and what I have learned from this experience.