Intercity fined 2.2 m PLN

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Watchdog slams ‘unfair’ promotions, but is UOKiK’s fine fair?

PKP Intercity core routes (excluding trains taken over from PKP PR)

PKP Intercity has been fined 2,282,390 million PLN (approx. 0.5 million GBP) by the Urzad Ochrony Konkurencji i Konsumentow (Office of Competition and Consumer Protection) for practices which the Commission claims breach Poland’s consumer protection laws. But is UPKiK’s fine itself fair?

In January 2009, Malgorzata Krasnodebska-Tomkiel, the chairperson of UOKiK commenced proceedings against PKP Intercity  to establish whether the regulations which governed the sale of certain PKP Intercity tickets infringe the rights of passengers. UOKiK checked the conditions attached to Intercity’s special offer tickets: Bilet weekendowy (Weekend), Bilet podróżnika (Traveller’s), Wcześniej i Taniej (Advanced). They were particularly interested in the ability of passenger’s to obtain a refund for an unused ticket as well as the conditions relating to purchases of tickets through the Internet.

The Weekend and Traveller’s tickets gave passengers the right to travel on an unlimited number of Intercity trains from 19.00 hours on Friday to 06.00 hours on Monday morning. PKP Intercity insisted – quite reasonably in our view – that if you purchased such a ticket and wanted your money back you had to hand it in before the period for which it was valid. The advanced ticket had to purchased 15 days in advance of when the journey was to be made and if you wanted a refund had to be handed in at least two hours before your journey was to commence.

Mrs Krasnodebska-Tomkiel has ruled that these restrictions are unlawful and has fined PKP Intercity the equivalent of 0.5 million GBP. Someone should point out to her that if you want a cheap ticket it is not unreasonable that extra restrictions are bundled in with its sale. In the days when I was sent around Europe by air my employers purchased Club class tickets and I changed my flights and carriers as if I was hopping on and off trains on the London Underground. Now that I buy my own tickets and travel on the low cost carriers at ridiculously cheap fares, I do not think it unreasonable for the carrier to keep my money if I decline to travel.

PKP has announced its intention to appeal against the UOKiK decision to the Competition and Consumer Protection Court. If the ruling is upheld it will be a victory for the road lobby – passengers will pay the fine in the form of higher fares and Intercity’s ability to attract new passengers through special promotions will be severely curtailed.

Meanwhile genuine abuses by Intercity of its monopoly position go unpunished. A reader writes that for the last fortnight he has been trying to make an advance purchase some 50 tickets for a group journey right across Poland which is to take place at the beginning of March. (Tickets are supposed to be on sale from 60 days before the departure of a train.) He regularly purchases group tickets and has already received payment from his customers. You would have thought that such a customer would have his own account manager and receive VIP treatment. Not a bit of it. Intercity have blocked the sale until tomorrow when the company raises its prices!

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One Response to “Intercity fined 2.2 m PLN”

  1. Macowiec Says:

    I’m still trying to understand what the UOKiK found unreasonable about the internet tickets. IC has since pulled all sales of tickets for TLK trains from their site, while still selling EX and EIC-category tickets. Yet, as far as I can see, the refund rules are the same for both. (Which involves cancelling the ticket before travel through the IC web site, and then applying ‘in writing’ for the refund.)

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