VIA madness

Canada’s National Railway system, today known as VIA Rail, has come to a sad and pitiful state. The once great transportation system that connected the country from sea to sea has taken a steep nose dive in the customer service department. And the worst part is, they could be truly great.

Trains are one of the cheapest and often the fastest way to get from point A to B. Basically, they beat the bus. They’re scenic, comfy and my tall friends tell me they win hands down for leg room. You also make friends when you split cabs back to the Ghetto. And best of all, what many people don’t know, is they’re an economically viable travel alternative.

VIA, however, likes to keep that fact hidden. I was almost finished my first year at Queen’s before I discovered the VIA 6 pack. It’s 6 one-way tickets between any two locations at a significant discount. From Kingston to Toronto it’s $42 each way, Kingston to Montreal is $41. Pretty good considering the Tricolour bus goes for roughly $30 to Toronto and Montreal, takes considerably longer and doesn’t have anywhere near the number departure dates and times.

This deal however, is not for the faint of heart and, more importantly, not for the unorganized student.

These 6 packs must be purchased in 1 lump sum and with an International Student Identification Card (ISIC). And here’s the kicker--if you lose that tiny piece of paper, none of the tickets are valid, period. No refunds or exchanges, you’ve lost whatever you haven’t used. They have a computer system but VIA is making major dollars off of student ineptitude. Not only do you have to have the tiny piece of paper present but you also have to have your ISIC at every visit as well.

An added bonus is, even though you’ve prepaid for your tickets, you’re unable to reserve actual seats online.

The reserve system is another major aspect of VIA that desperately needs to be overhauled. You can reserve a seat by phone but you have to be there 45 minutes beforehand. After that, they freely give your seat away, believe me, I know.

Anyway, no matter what you do, don’t forget your ISIC. The Kingston station last year stopped taking pictures for these cards so you can’t purchase another one at the station, unless you’re carrying around a picture of yourself. Cutting up other cards or expired ISICs to reuse the picture is also a no-no. My advice is to borrow a pair of scissors for a “luggage” problem and snip outside of the desk jockey’s view.

The worst part about all of this is that I will continue to take the train home. It cuts my travel time almost in half. When I’m on any kind of break I generally just want to get home and often don’t care what it takes, I just want to be there. What really bugs me is that I display the type of average teenage idiocy that VIA Rail capitalizes on in their bottom line.

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