Thursday March 30, 2017

Via Rail botches Canada 150 youth pass promo, feels wrath of generation

The youth pass can be used any time in July.

The youth pass can be used any time in July. (viarail.ca)

Listen 5:44

Story transcript

This week, a new youth movement came suddenly to life.

It's made up of 12- to 25-year-olds — and some people older than that — who have valid international student identity cards and a beef with Via Rail.

Via rail train

(Adrian Wyld/CP)

The beef involves Via Rail's offer of unlimited summer youth rail passes, as part of Canada's 150th birthday celebration. The passes allow youth unlimited travel across Canada for the month of July.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Carleton University student Carly Crawford. She exhausted all options trying to buy one of the coveted tickets, but despite her efforts was unable. 

Carly Crawford

Carly Crawford is a student at Carleton University. (Carly Crawford )

Carol Off: Carly, how did you hear about this pass that Via Rail had?

Carly Crawford: I actually just heard about the pass through Facebook. It was trending on Facebook and on Twitter. I thought what an incredible opportunity to travel to Vancouver for only $150, rather than by plane.


CO: So what did you do?

CC: I went online and I tried to buy a ticket, but unfortunately the website was down due to technical difficulties. I phoned Via Rail. I was on hold with them for about 32 minutes. Then I finally got through to an agent. I asked how many tickets there were and he said that they were unlimited. I asked if I could buy a ticket through the phone and he said he could not process my payment due to his system. He mentioned it will probably be fixed in the next 24 to 48 hours, but I shouldn't worry because there was an unlimited amount of passes.


CO: So what was your next move then?

CC: I checked on the website to buy one of the unlimited passes thinking that it would be a breeze and I noticed that there was only now 1,867 tickets that were being giving away, which was really disappointing because I was under the impression that there was an unlimited amount and I didn't need to rush to buy a ticket.

CO: So were you able to get one? Did you call again?

CC: Unfortunately not. I called again. I called, like almost 200 times. I never could get through. The line was always busy.

I hopped into a cab last night, went to the Ottawa Via Rail station. It was closed.

Carly Crawford call log

Crawford's call history shows she repeatedly tried calling Via Rail and even called an Ottawa Taxi to drive her to the Via Rail Station. (Carly Crawford)

I came back and finally got through on a line. However, they told me that no agent would be picking up the phone until 7:00 a.m. the next morning. By the time I set my alarm to call back around 6:40 a.m. to get through, all the tickets were already sold out. 

CO: So you called nearly 200 times — the same phone number?

CC: I called many phone numbers. I went a little overboard. I called the Quebec number. I called the Moncton number. I called their 1-800 number that they have on their website. Then I also called the hearing impaired number just because I wanted to get through absolutely any way that I could. I was really determined to get a ticket, but unfortunately every single line was busy.

CO: So who finally told you that their were only 1,867 tickets available and they were gone?

CC: The Via Rail Twitter account.

CO: You've since found out that you are not alone in being angry and frustrating with how this went. What do you know about other young folks who tried to buy a ticket?

CC: I think everyone was in a similar boat that I was. I think tons of us young Canadians stayed up late last night and kept refreshing their website and kept phoning them. It's just overall really disappointing.

CO: How is it that Via Rail couldn't figure out that this would be incredibly popular?

CC: I have no idea. It blows my mind. I don't understand how a company with a marketing team and a promotion team and all these people that support them did not figure out that this was executed so terribly.


VIA Rail has issued a statement on this story. The company says that, in the end, it increased the number of youth passes it sold to 4,000 due to overwhelming demand. It says they sold out at 3:00 a.m. Thursday morning. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Carly Crawford.