VIA Rail needs to conduct themselves better – Part 2 – conclusion

In my first post about VIA, I described the failure of VIA to get my wife and baby home from Montreal to Toronto in a reasonable fashion.  After a train breakdown, it was their customer service that went off the rails.

We pick up the story after contacting their customer support to discuss compensation.

The offered compensation was a 50% ticket credit for the one-way trip and it must be used within the year.   It seemed to me this was a very restrictive policy and my family would have no use for this.  After some discussion with VIA, and a note to them on Twitter, a refund of 50% of the one-way trip was offered.  They required that the ticket must be mailed in before they could process this.  After doing so, I never heard from VIA and the refund never arrived.

I’m not exactly sure why the policy of requiring the original ticket exists in the first place, other than to provide a barrier to getting the refund.  VIA already had our personal information, credit card number, and date of the trip in their database.

When a company doesn’t deliver on their commitment, and when customer service is particularly bad, the company needs to know.  However, when I tried to escalate the complaint, they were not interested in listening.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the Customer Experience Executive at VIA ignored two requests to connect on LinkedIn to hear my story.

After posting Part 1 of this story, VIA contacted me via Twitter to review, hence the delay in posting my conclusion.  The 50% one-way refund was back on the table.  We offered to provide a scanned copy of the ticket since the original was ‘lost in the mail’.  The customer relations rep said it was not necessary.  So this leads me to believe the ticket is completely unnecessary.

We did accept the offer.  I am still not fully satisfied as my point of view is that VIA did not fulfill their end of the contract.  One assumes that when buying a train ticket, that the contract involves getting the passenger from Point A to Point B, by train!   Failing to meet the contract, VIA provided alternate but, in my opinion, not reasonable accommodations , and certainly did not deliver anywhere near on-time.  The scheduled 5-hour trip took over 15 hours.

Delivering a customer from Montreal to Cornwall does not constitute fulfilling a contract and is not even 50% of the distance (it is about 20% of the distance).  Of course VIA did not budge on their offer.  So how they came up with a 50% refund seems to be part of an internal policy, perhaps regardless of circumstances.

VIA failed in providing train service, setting expectations, customer service, and making the customer whole, although they eventually provided a partial refund.  Needless to say, my family will have to think hard about travelling with VIA again.

Readers:   Have you ever travelled by VIA?  What was your experience?  Do you think their eventual offer was fair?

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12 Responses to VIA Rail needs to conduct themselves better – Part 2 – conclusion

  1. Erin says:

    I was on the same delayed train. I was offered a credit towards the cost of a new 1 way trip from Montreal to Toronto (had to be used within 6 months). In June I decided to cash in and use the credit.

    Using the VIA website I discovered that I wasn’t able to apply my credit automatically. So I decided to call VIA customer service. After a long discussion and a lot of debate back and forth on the phone – I also learned that I could not automatically apply my VIA credit. VIA wanted me to pay using my credit card and then once I was at the train station get my money back from the concierge desk.

    Not good enough for me.

    In the end to use my credit I had to go to the train station in person and exchange my original ticket (good thing I brought this with me as there was no prior mention of this) for a new trip. The exchange also proved to be difficult for the VIA ticket person – taking her 45 min and many back and forth phone calls to VIA head office.

    Next time I’m going to drive or fly!

    • Support Spy says:

      @Erin thanks for the note. That is definitely more work than it needs to be. It seems obvious to me that VIA is making customers jump through hoops in the hopes that they will give up. There appears to be a lot of bad blood from a situation where VIA could have made themselves look like they really cared about their customers.

  2. mark jamison says:

    VIA’s new baggage policy you are driving me to Porter, back to my car or even the bus.
    1) My view is that VIA rail is a passenger rail service not an LRT line in Scarborough
    2) The number of new NO baggage trains makes no sense if you believe Number1 is at all accurate
    3) The clientele needs of the Toronto to Kingston to Ottawa or Montreal routes differ from the clientele needs Montreal- Ottawa routes
    4) While I recognize the effort to encourage area university students not to bring every scrap of dirty laundry home to the parents every weekend , putting y regular business oriented customers who must travel with “stuff” in a bind makes no sense- There is a balance. For example , i often travel with a light oversized container that I would happily buy a seat for if needs be and it would fit easily and safely – apparently there is a “rule” against that – even airlines get this.
    5) VIA employees are encouraging passengers o complain about new baggage rules which suggests that the efficiency experts hired to help get them to to this debacle don’t take the train

  3. Johanna says:

    I’ve had numerous problems with Via Rail. On my return ticket from Montreal to Toronto in early December 2012, I had to pay an extra $20 per trip (total $40) for my luggage because it was over 40lbs. My bag weighed 46lbs and I was told that if it weighed over 50lbs that I would not be able to take it on the train at all. Via did not offer checked luggage service, which does allow bags in excess of 50lbs. I thought this policy unusual considering airlines charge for luggage over 50lbs yet still allow you to check your baggage.

    Furthermore, when I got to the Central station in Montreal, the Via agent sent me to the wrong platform with my heavy bag and I only found out my error until I hauled my luggage down the stairs. I then had to carry it back up the stairs (because there was no escalator) and actually had to ask another patron or customer to help me with my bags. The Via Rail ticket agent just watched me and did nothing. By the time I got to the right platform I was flustered and extremely upset. At this point there were several Via employees on the platform because I was teary and upset. Rather than dealing with the problem they employees engaged in a discussion about who was responsible. All the employees were adamant it wasn’t them who had caused my upset. Needless to say, I was furious by this point. When I returned home to Montreal the train was about 30 degrees and the staff could not get the heat to turn off. They turned on the air conditioner to provide relief.

    You think I would just simply learn not to take the Via train. Just recently I made an error when I purchased my train fare for a return trip from Toronto to Montreal. It was the wrong day. When I called Via to explain my mistake and that I had to be back in Montreal for an exam (I’m a grad student), their customer service agent told me there was nothing they could do to assist me and that I would have to buy a new ticket. I requested to be speak with a supervisor and the Via representative told me they would call me back (giving no indication as to how long this would be). I expressed dismay with this policy and explained that surely other patrons have made errors while booking tickets online. Apparently Via’s offer of cancellation or refund only lasts for 24 hours (unbeknownst to me). Either way, there were prepared to offer me nothing. Via’s customer service rep did call me back (3 hours later) and told me that the ticket was non-refundable and non-exchangeable and that the only offer they could provide was a $20 credit toward another ticket. I declined the offer and told her I’d rather take the bus.

    This company has terrible customer service and if I can manage it, I would rather take MegaBus or Porter Airlines. At least they exchange tickets and offer refunds. And when you call to discuss problems they are competent and fair.

  4. C says:

    My situation is different but equally appalling and a testament to how poor the service is on Via Rail. I traveled first class from Ottawa to Toronto on August 5, 2013 and experienced the following incident – see below:

    While I was getting on the train in Ottawa I asked for assistance with my bag and the attendant flat out said ‘no’. I hobbled and managed to drag my suitcase up the steps in the entrance to the train almost falling backwards several times when I lost my balance.

    She began dinner without offering me the hot towels to wash my hands, as is customary.

    Dinner was served and she had forgotten to offer rolls. When I asked for bread she barked, ‘I am not finished yet’. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but I said nothing else — the bread eventually arrived.

    When she came around to offer coffee or tea – I asked if she had green tea. She did not indicate whether they did or not and simply said ‘I’ll be back’. I interpreted that to mean that they, indeed, had green tea and she would bring me a cup. I waited 1 hour – no tea in sight.

    As she was walking by I reminded her of my request for tea. She stopped in her tracks turned back in the direction from which she was coming and brought me a cup of hot water and a green tea bag. The hot water was in a paper cup — this first class – where is the china I wondered?

    About 30 minutes before pulling into Toronto as she was picking up plates and garbage, she walked by my seat and did not pick anything up. I caught her attention and said ‘you forgot to pick up these’ … this is when she showed what she was made of — she hollered very loudly ‘ I CANNOT REMEMBER EVERYTHING – I HAVE TOO MANY PEOPLE TO LOOK AFTER’. I turned red with embarrassment because of the scene that she was making.

    I asked her quietly, what is your name – she again hollered — ‘ASK SOMEONE ELSE MY NAME AND DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO’. I shrunk into my seat as she beat me up with her words.

    When I arrived in Toronto, I asked another attendant what the rude attendant’s name is and I got it. I am going to make a full complaint to Via Rail.

    I believe that the workers are unionized and Via’s hands are probably tied with regard to disciplining them. I cannot imagine that an employer who values customer service and who is able to discipline staff could have an employee give him or herself permission to treat customers so poorly.

    I will not travel Via Rail again — they do not deserve my business and that employee needs to be fired.

  5. Nancy Zangari says:

    On July 11, 2014 Via Rail’s service from Toronto to Montreal was disrupted due to the train derailment from the previous day.
    Passengers were treated as a herd of cattle from the moment of arrival at the train station in Toronto. We were not given any information or direction. We had to scramble to find out what was happening – where we were being redirected and what options were available to us. After much confusion and scrambling on our part, we were given two options:
    Passengers were offered either a full refund or transportation on a bus with 50% off a future Via Rail ticket.
    While I understand and appreciate that this type of disruption is unforeseeable and often times unavoidable, I feel that this type of reimbursement is completely unacceptable and disrespectful of passengers.
    A full refund would not have solved the issue of passengers having to be somewhere else at a given time or date. So that is not a reasonable option.
    We should have been offered 50% off our original train ticket given that bus ticket to Montreal costs approximately $50, less then half the cost of the train ticket ( $119.00).
    We were offered 50% off a future trip.
    This option is also not a very viable one in that it
    is dependant on two things: one, that a person is able to afford a future ride ( even at half cost) and secondly, that a person is well enough to travel again.
    This type of reimbursement only benefits the already rich Via Rail system at the expense of the average working person. For shame!

    The stranded passengers were offered transportation on an old, smelly, uncomfortable, broken bus and given a bottle of warm water and a handful of stale pretzels for our inconvenience. We stopped once along the way for only a 15 min break after only 2 hours of travel. The washroom facilities on board the bus was tight, smelly and dirty. I was hungry, thirsty, and very uncomfortable. It was a horrible experience.
    Via Rail has insurance for these types of emergencies and still we were treated as a herd of cattle with no regard to the fact that we are now out of pocket the price of a train ride that was not to be.

    Furthermore, no one checked our boarding pass when we got on the bus.
    Certainly that is an unsafe practise !
    No one from Via Rail offered any type of apology or even bothered to inform us of our options.
    Double shame.
    When I lodged a formal complaint, I was basically told, “sorry but that’s all you’re getting”

    Very shoddy and sorrowful experience. Via Rail will never get my business again.

  6. Dianne says:

    Traveled by Via train this weekend Oshawa to Montreal. The train to Montreal was delayed an hour and the train coming back from Montreal was delayed even longer – ended up delayed 2 1/2 hrs. As we had to catch a connecting train in Kingston coming back we were concerned we would miss our connecting train and end up being delayed longer. Via would not address this issue even after boarding and long into the train ride when it became obvious we would not make the connector unless they held the connector train back. The train We were on was moving very slowly – it was finally announced we were slowed down as a result of following a slow train. We then stopped completely and started backtracking eastward again being informed we were going back to pick up a broken down train. Even at this time Via would not address what was going to happen with people missing connecting trains. Eventually we were informed we would be delayed at least 2 hrs however they would now make all stops on the way back to Toronto except for Guild Wood – those travellers had to take cabs from either Oshawa or Toronto. The bathrooms were disgusting on both train ride down to Montreal and return home. The floor of washrooms were urine soaked resulting in the bottom of my pants getting covered in urine upon attempt to have a pee without sitting on the urine covered toilet seats. On both routes to and from Montreal they were out of stock on several food choices – settled for my third pick on both trips. Via did mention we could apply for a credit good for 6 months however it is nontransferable and I have no desire to travel by train again.

  7. Cristian says:

    Travelled first class from London to Toronto early morning. Breakfast was delayed with almost one hour and it consisted of only one baggel. When asked on what happened with the omlette they had last week, the answer was “budget cutts”. That’s one very expensive baggel..

  8. B says:

    Unsatisfied on how Via handled your complaint? Simply fill out a Freedom of Information Request, mail it to VIA, and now you can find what they really had to say about your complaint. Some requests may cost $5, searching you own is free.

  9. Darlene Northcott says:

    Just returned from a Via Rail trip across Canada, Train #1 Toronto – Edmonton
    Delayed 11-12 hours to 9:00 Sept 6 – arrived Edmonton 17:30 Sept 8th.
    Even with a 11-12 hour delay, this is not the problem, it is the inefficient way in which staff handle things. I paid $1,800 one way Sleeper Plus (includes all meals) seniors rate Halifax to Edmonton (could have flown for $400). The Chinese lady in the lounge in Toronto just said to come back at 8pm to get our hotel & bus arrangements – good thing I didn’t listen because the buses left at 8pm for an airport hotel. Instead I insisted that we see a Supervisor and got the vouchers and found out the arrangements that were being made for us. Via sent three bus loads all at once to the Airport Hotel (Kudos to the Sheraton Gateway for handling all of VIA’s inefficiency – imagine getting 90+ people checking in all at once instead of filtering them in as buses were filled earlier in the day). Via should have sent off those early people and sleeper plus people first. 50 older people left sleeping in the lounge! Also on the return bus trip back to Union Station Toronto the next morning from Toronto Pearson Airport – not enough buses ordered, King Limo (VIA arranged) left four of us on the hotel curb with other peoples valuable carry-on luggage and our luggage was on the bus that drove away. Once again I made them order an SUV service to barely get us back to the passenger lounge on time. Then one fellow looked after the other peoples luggage and he brought my luggage from the big bus that his wife was on. This whole trip passengers looking after passengers. I made sure people knew to check in at the desk and get their meal assignments and to get checked-in, VIA staff didn’t tell them this I did!

    The Toronto to Winnipeg crew were good and helpful, worked an extra day, but the new crew Winnipeg to Edmonton (Vancouver Crew were non existent!). No announcements ever made. Did not ever see my Cabin Steward. Didn’t know we were close to Edmonton until I was making my complaints known to the train steward. No announcements for a small sandwich service they finally decided to provide an hour before I got off in Edmonton – I didn’t get any – didn’t know about it! I had supper the night before at 5:00pm Sept 7th in Winnipeg, then a Brunch at 9:00am the next day on September 8th. I had a choice to either wait 16 or 20 hours between my meals.

    There are buns, coffee out all the time but TOO MANY SWEETS NO PROTEIN OR SAVOURIES, VIA RAIL!

    At 10:00am on Sept 8th, I was scouting the train to plan to buy my lunch, the only take-out/store was located in the coach dome car. The coach car attendant *Patrick* said I wasn’t supposed to be there. I said I was only looking around to see if there was somewhere I could buy food because I knew I wouldn’t be getting supper and no lunch was planned (the well-rested Vancouver crew that came on board in Winnipeg the evening before had plenty of time to do a Breakfast, lunch, dinner the next day but only did a brunch – two meals instead of three) Leaving us starving!


    Then my husband & I have plans to take the Jasper – Prince Rupert train some day.

    Being delayed or train mishaps is not the problem, we understand the constraints they are under, but treat people well when there are problems because they are paying lots of money for the adventure of riding the rails and the coach folks really need assistance because they are on a budget!

    Shame on you via rail – I am ashamed you are a Canadian entity – many international wealthy visitors take the train and they should be treated better to keep your tourist dollars rolling in.

    In one afternoon I can set up a system for handling passenger delays at the Toronto Business lounge. Check people in as they come in from the connecting trains, verify their train assignments, fill & hand out vouchers immediately, have folks sit in a designated area of the lounge only. Connecting Passenger Plus people first, then new Passenger Plus people who checked out of hotels that day in order to depart on the train, people who live in Toronto can stay home for the night with early enough advisement. Coach class offered busing and accommodation only if there is hotel availability, because they don’t pay for beds any way. They should have been sent the the private quiet back part of the lounge to sleep, but stay in that one area till called. When you get to 45 completed vouchers for Passenger Plus people send them out of the lounge immediately by bus to the hotel Via has arranged for. VIA staff are the most inefficient bunch of people I have ever seen! Re-training and training needed!

    People sent willy nilly to hotel some without vouchers – it was a mess.
    VIA Rail employee Patrick on Train #1 Coach needs to be fired!

  10. Tim says:

    In some was similar to Darlene’s story above, I was on an Edmonton-Toronto train o September 12-15. We started out 4-5 hours late, were 12 hours late by Winnipeg, and were 9 hours+ ate at Toronto.
    On the final night the bar closed early.
    On discussing this with train staff the next day, it seems that they do see us all as cattle, and people who need ‘controlling. A people got worried and stressed about lateness and missing things, the staff got stricter and decided they need to control almost all aspects of behaviour to preempt anything that might possibly on occasion get ‘out of control’.
    In travel by train worldwide I have never seen staff so patronizing and ‘superior’ to their paying passengers who are supposed to be enjoying themselves.

    On top of that, there was no compensation. Back in early summer 2015, apparently, ViaRail stopped giving compensation for late trains due to it happening too often and costing them too much.

  11. Tannis Taylor says:

    I am travelling on a sleeper tour to Churchill. I asked the tour operator if I had to buy water? He said no? I called VIA, and they said they will provide ONE bottle of water per person in the sleeper. WOW! This trip was expensive enough! Now if I require a second bottle I WILL have to pay for it. Honesty would have been ideal prior to this trip. It is 4 days until our trip – we have no documentation, no itinerary, don’t even know when the train is leaving yet? Disappointed in the lack of service already and the lack of honesty.

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