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Conduct Unbecoming In A Conductor

A couple of months ago a friend and I traveled by train to a nearby city to enjoy a “girly lunch”, general catch-up, and late birthday celebration (seeing Marvel’s “Avengers Assemble” at the cinema). Thanks to an accident on the way to catching said train, we were running a little behind, and in my rush I purchased the wrong ticket (a single instead of a return) from the machines outside the station. I had just enough time to ask the gentleman at the ticket counter if he could issue the upgrade for me (an extra 25p) for the return, which he did so, and told me to “keep the tickets together”. I assumed he meant the return ticket, and the extra tab showing the upgrade.

At the city station, the exits are manned by automated barriers which take and scan your ticket, then return it if applicable. Because my ticket was a “From X Station to Y Station”, the machine took my ticket and allowed me through, but did not return it (as my “From Y Station to X Station” ticket would, of course, let me back through when I returned).

After our lunch, the film, and a pleasant sorbet dessert in the city center we headed back to the station where, I discovered to my annoyance, that the barriers would not accept my return ticket. When I spoke to the guard at the end gate, he explained it was because it was “only” the upgraded return ticket, and not a ‘proper’ one, but told me it wasn’t a problem, and to head on to the train. My friend and I settled in our seats and continued our discussion of the film we had just seen. Halfway back to our station the conductor came to check our tickets, and so I presented mine (along with my travel pass as necessary), and she very rudely demanded, “Where’s the ticket?”

Confused, I checked that I had, indeed, given her my ticket, and replied that it was right there. She then rolled her eyes at me (as though perhaps I was mentally deficient in some way) and snapped that my ticket wasn’t valid.
A little slow on the uptake (nice girl that Timelady, but not too bright), I realized she meant it was because of the ticket hiccup. Now I knew what she meant, I explained that the ticket barrier had taken the ticket, but the guard there had said it was fine.

“That’s not *my* problem.” Was the snapped reply. “You don’t have the proper ticket.”
Now, I’m very non-confrontational, and was getting quite upset by her demeanor, though I did my best to hide it, and again (very politely) tried to explain why I hadn’t got the ‘rest’ of the ticket, but I *did* have my debit card receipt, if that would help? Again she snapped that it “wasn’t her problem” and stormed off down the train.

I assumed that would be the end of it, but when my friend and I alighted at our station, I saw the conductor talking to one of the station guards, and gesticulating towards me. By the time we got to the exit (we were quite far down the platform) the train had moved on, the conductor on it, and the station guard had retreated to the warm and dry of the station building. I approached both her and the station manager (who was there as well) and explained what had happened with the tickets, and produced both ticket and debit card receipt. I was kindly informed that it was no problem, that I could go straight through. I was also informed, by the guard, that the conductor had told them I would, “Have to pay extra for traveling with an invalid ticket”.

My question to you, EH, is this: Should I have reported this conductor for her behaviour? I can assure you all I was very polite (years in customer service have taught me to keep extremely polite even when being shouted at etc.) but her responses came as though I had either shouted at *her* or had been very rude in some other way. Should I try and report her, or should I just chalk this up to one of life’s experiences?   0824-12

I vote for chalking it up to a life experience.

{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Green123 September 3, 2012, 4:48 am

    Although I understand the Admin’s assumption that this is no big deal and should be chalked up as a life experience, I’m also assuming from the story that the OP is British. Since privatisation of our train services in the 1980s, conductors on many of the train companies in the UK are notoriously jobsworthy and rude to the paying public, and there are numerous examples of customers being spoken to very harshly and treated like criminals for making an honest mistake with the fierecly complex train ticketing systems. I think the OP is well within her rights to make her feelings known. I suggest a brief email to the train company’s customer service desk, giving a description (or better still the name) of the member of staff who was rude to you.

  • Bint September 3, 2012, 4:54 am

    I vote for reporting her for her manner. It’s unprofessional and reporting it may stop her being so unpleasant to others.

  • Angela September 3, 2012, 5:49 am

    If you have her name, by all means report her. A bully will remain so until there are serious consequences, and what you are describing is bullying. If her actions are serious enough for her to lose her job, well, that’s not your problem.

  • CaffeineKatie September 3, 2012, 6:00 am

    I think I would have reported her AND stressed how everyone else involved in this had been helpful and polite. I’m sure situations like this happen everyday, and her behavior could have caused this to escalate into a very nasty and potentially dangerous confrontation, had the OP been less polite and self-controlled. Maybe she was having a bad day or maybe she needs more training–that should be management’s decision, and for that they need input about her performance at work.

  • --Lia September 3, 2012, 6:20 am

    Let this one slide. She’s not very bright and working a low level position where all she knows how to do is follow the rules. If she were dealing with a passenger who was traveling without a ticket or with the wrong ticket, she’d have done the right thing. She’d be a bit snide and reported it to higher-ups so they could handle it. In this case, she was in error and the higher-ups handled her error quickly and efficiently. You weren’t even terribly inconvenienced. I always take those experiences as a lesson in counting my blessings. I’m glad I’m not working a job where I’m supposed to be on the look-out all the time for people who might trying to take advantage of the rules.

  • Melissa September 3, 2012, 6:30 am

    I’d agree with admin. You weren’t wronged or humiliated…the conductor was a jerk and you moved on with your day. This seems like a non-issue to me.

  • Katy September 3, 2012, 7:15 am

    Some people like that are just on power-trips. I’ve met a couple conductors who have been known to enforce rules that don’t apply to that particular train or car (some trains passengers are allowed to ride with alcohol, some not, and we have ‘quiet cars’ for the non-cell users or talkers, and I’ve seen conductors try to make a quiet car out of a car not marked a quiet car). I’d just let it go.

  • Cherry September 3, 2012, 7:21 am

    Perhaps the best way to go about this is to write a complaint about the overall problem (the barrier taking your ticket and therefore leaving you without a valid way onto the train), while mentioning only briefly that the conductor was rude to you.
    Unfortunately, unless she was wearing a nametag and you made a note of it, it will probably be quite difficult for the train company to identify exactly who she was and talk to her about the issue. Hopefully by making them aware of the issue with the ticket not being returned, you can avoid finding yourself in such a situation again.

  • Margo September 3, 2012, 7:29 am

    I would not report her. Although she was not polite it sounds as though you knew that you didn’t have a normal ticket and it would have been sensible to explain this when you showed her the ticket. (inlcuding the fact that you had checked before boarding the train that the ticket was valid)

    Given that you didn’t end up having to pay any extra, I would not take it further.

  • Cat September 3, 2012, 8:42 am

    I would be grateful that she was not a relative and would not be showing up at my home for Boxing Day. If I didn’t raise her and I am not married to her, she is not my problem.

  • gramma dishes September 3, 2012, 8:56 am

    I would assume that since she had consulted with both the station guard and the station manager who apparently assured her that you and your substitute ticket were just fine, she has already revealed herself to not be the brightest bulb in the box in addition to being very aggressively confrontational.

    Therefore, no need for you to add to it.

    If it would make you feel better though, it wouldn’t hurt to put in an honest complaint/report about her demeanor (and misinformation) as long as you ALSO use that opportunity to compliment all the other various personnel who were so gracious and helpful to you.

  • Angel September 3, 2012, 9:29 am

    I would let this one go. Yes she was rude, but if she continues on this way someone else will probably end up reporting her. As long as there was no harm done sometimes reporting somebody can be more trouble than it’s worth !

  • Din September 3, 2012, 9:32 am

    Just let it go. If you spend your time reporting every person in your life who is curt and/or unprofessional with you, you’re going to be spending an awful lot of your time for very little outcome. Unless they’ve seriously affected your outcome in some way, be grateful you’re a kinder person and get on with your day.

  • Library Diva September 3, 2012, 10:53 am

    I don’t think you’d be out of line in reporting this. It upset you enough to write here, after all. I think businesses that have a lot of public interaction are often terribly lax in training people for customer service, and this woman certainly sounds like she could use a brush-up course.

    As an aside, I’m also fascinated that your movie had a different title in the UK. In America, it was just called “The Avengers.” “Avengers Assemble” is a much catchier title. I wonder why they didn’t use it everywhere.

  • anonever13 September 3, 2012, 11:35 am

    I agree with gramma dishes. It sounds like she was set right by the station guard. However, if it would make you feel better and help you move on, by all means send in a complaint.

  • manybellsdown September 3, 2012, 12:10 pm

    I like Cherry’s suggestion of making the email mainly about the ticket issue and only tangentially mentioning the conductor. Given her attitude, it’s likely only a matter of time before she gets herself into trouble anyway – people like that always do. I’ve seen a lawyer wind up in contempt of court for attempting to get someone in trouble who was doing nothing wrong. She went to the bailiff and the judge and finally stormed out in a huff when no one would do anything.

  • Katie2 September 3, 2012, 1:45 pm

    If it was me, I’d probably seethe for a while and then let it go.

  • Raven September 3, 2012, 1:50 pm

    Part of me wants to say “forget about it,” as these things happen and dwelling on them will just make it more irritating.

    However, for all you know, this woman is rude to people a hundred times a day – imagine if no one every made a complaint. She could be getting away with this type of behaviour constantly, because no one has said anything. If everyone says, “Well, I’m just one person,” then no one gets anywhere.

  • TimeLady September 3, 2012, 3:24 pm

    OP here, thanks for the clarification Dame, and thanks for the further suggestions from the comments! Much appreciated. Unfortunately I have no choice *but* to travel by train, but thank heavens she’s the worst I’ve had to handle (from staff anyway, other travellers are a whole different kettle of fish!)

    And Greene123, I am indeed British. I’m on speaking terms with the manager at the station, so I’ll try and have words with him next time I’m in.

  • RadManCF September 3, 2012, 4:12 pm

    @Lia, I wouldn’t call a train conductor a low level worker, historically, the conductor has been the individual responsible for the train. Their responsibilities extend to many things beyond taking tickets. Furthermore, rapid transit and commuter rail systems have tight schedules to keep, and failing to keep them can often result in loss of funding. I can’t really blame the conductor for not going out of her way to sort out the ticket issue.

  • lalaland September 3, 2012, 10:05 pm


  • Electric Blue September 3, 2012, 11:57 pm

    Oh this reminds me of an incident that happened when I went to visit the Gold Coast after I had finished high school.

    I was 18 at the time and my friend and I decided to head up to northern Australia to sunny Queensland to hit the beach and the themeparks as a reward to ourselves for finishing 13 years of school. At one point we were staying in Brisbane and had to catch a train and than a bus all the way to the Gold Coast to go to Seaworld. As we were both from Melbourne and had absolutely no idea what tickets we needed to purchase we relied heavily on the customer service consultant at the train station in Brisbane. We told him where we wanted to go and relied on him to charge us for the correct ticket.

    We made it to Seaworld no problem. Spent the day there and later that afternoon my friend and I decided it was time to head back to Brisbane. We jumped onto a bus at Seaworld and showed the lady driver our tickets. She went ballistic at us, talking down to us saying she had absolutely no idea how we made it here and how we’ve purchased the wrong ticket. My friend and I were really quite shocked…I explained to her that we were from Melbourne and told her we had told the customer service consultant at the train station in Brisbane where we wanted to go and assumed he had given us and charged us the correct ticket as we had no knowledge of the Brisbane public transport. She refused to let us on the bus until we paid the extra fare…fair enough. So I asked how much I needed to pay to which she responds “$2”
    I almosted rolled my eyes at that point…all that carrying on over $2….I would’ve quite happily paid the extra $2 without all her carrying on but regardless I paid it to shut her up. I guess the driver just assumed my friend and I were nothing but stuck up teenagers hoping to save a couple of dollars when infact we did have jobs back at home and had saved hard for our holiday.

    I ended up calling the bus company and complaining. I received an apology letter when I returned home to Melbourne.

  • nk September 4, 2012, 12:26 am

    @ Library Diva – The title of the movie was changed to “Avengers Assemble” so it wouldn’t be confused with the British TV show “The Avengers.”

  • Cherry September 4, 2012, 4:29 am

    @Library Diva, I heard that it was called Avengers Assemble here to make sure there was no confusion with the old Britsh TV series The Avengers. I could very easily be wrong though.

  • Cupcake September 4, 2012, 5:59 am

    I’d report it. It’s not like she was really “just following orders” – the OP didn’t just say that there was a problem with her ticket, she said that the guard (an employee of the same organisation) had already said it was okay. Which means that actually it IS the train company’s problem, and thus something that the conductor should sort out. It’s one thing to blame a customer for messing up, it’s another to blame a customer when the staff have messed up. Even if you don’t think the conductor’s behaviour should be reported, the company needs to figure out what should be done in this situation and make sure everyone knows.

  • Lilac September 4, 2012, 9:00 am

    I vote for contacting the train company about the ticket problem but not specifically about the conductor. There should be a procedure in place for this situation as I am sure you were not the first nor will you be the last person to forget to purchase their return trip ticket. The train employees should be instructed on how to handle this situation properly. What you could say to the railway company about the conductor is that this lack of knowledge obviously frustrated her and she was not sure how to handle the problem. If she had been empowered to let this discrepancy go by, all involved would have been happier.

  • jena rogers September 4, 2012, 11:02 am

    These days, it’s been my experience that folks in the service industry in general have become extremely kind and accommodating. I can’t help but wonder if it has to do with the overall gratitude they feel for having a job in today’s tough economy. The conductor here seems to have a false sense of job security, and a realistic kick in the pants is warranted. No doubt the company could replace her in a hot minute with someone who would be more than willing to go beyond jobworth behavior. So I say report her, if for no other reason than to spare future passengers from her abhorrent attitude.

  • Justin September 4, 2012, 12:29 pm

    I have a pretty simple rule in these situations, after someone gives me poor service like this I pay attention as much as I can to how they treat the people around me. If it was just directed at me I let it go unless it is severe (not like this case IMHO). If they treat others poorly and show that bad customer service is a pattern I report it.

    The way I see it if it is a behaviour they do repeatedly to multiple people their boss will want to know so it can be addressed. If it is just a onetime thing against me I chalk it up to a bad day.

  • WinkAndSmile September 5, 2012, 1:41 am

    She said it wasn’t her problem? Well, of course it wasn’t her problem, since it wasn’t a problem, at all.

    She couldn’t very well toss you off a moving train, and even a bully knows that.

    While teaching her a lesson in manners is a good thing, I wonder how effective it would actually be. Also, I wonder how much time and trouble it will take.

    If she had tried to harm you, I’d say go for it. As it is, though, she was annoying, but not truly threatening. I would say chalk it up to experience and a good story. If you happen to ride the train again, you might have an opportunity to mention it to someone in authority, at that time.

  • Enna September 6, 2012, 9:57 am

    @ 1 Green123 – not all train staff are rude like that in the UK, in all sectors you will get “bad apples”. As for the OP – you can chalk it down to experince and you can also write in and complain – if you know the person’s name or you could raise the issue of what happened with the ticket? Most of the time there are warnings that if you don’t display a valid ticket then you get fined, the lady didn’t do this so maybe she thought she might not have enough grounds to do that – espically if colleagues of hers at both ends could back you up.

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