As many of my friends will already know, I’ve had “a bit of a battle” to say the least with the MEN Arena. Trying to get tickets for a Lady Gaga concert (a friend’s birthday, honestly!) I went through the mill a bit finding the best way of securing tickets, especially for something in such high demand.
Without regurgitating the entire story again (huge sighs of relief from aforementioned friends), the information from the arena staff, website and the phone line was so misleading that I ended up spending four hours on the phone when the tickets had already been sold; I was treated to an engaged tone, or on the few occasions where I could get through, the line would simply hang up. If you really want to know the details, read the complaint letter I sent to them.
After a generic “high disappointment during times of high demand” response my second letter finally made it to the board of directors, who are now considering updating their process information, investing in their technology and even retraining their staff. Anyone would expect such a venue to give everyone a fair shot. I don’t mind if I’m genuinely beaten to tickets by someone else, I do mind if the service is crap. So these developments are welcome.
This experience got me thinking though about access generally. There’s such a wide range of schemes or discounts available to consumers requiring assistance that you are often left unfairly out of pocket. Most major arenas (MEN included) offer full concessions, yet National Rail insist you purchase a disabled railcard first. That only gets you a third off rail fares for your tickets and your companion’s additional ticket, meaning that you are automatically having to pay 20% or more on top of what anyone else would pay otherwise. That may not sound a lot, to those needing help it can mean everything.
11 years ago, me and a PA complained at Warner Village (now VUE) cinemas that I had to pay full price for the PA to accompany me. We were met by the manager afterwards who raised it at one of their following board meetings. Three months later I received a letter in which they’d taken the decision to allow anyone needing a carer with them to get a concessionary ticket for free. Without wishing to take full credit for it, I’d like to think it was people like us willing to challenge such costs that gave rise to a number of the concessionary schemes now running.
The Cinema Exhibitors’ Association Card is a great example that mostly does work. However, even that has flaws. You can book online or over the phone, but when you arrive at the venue you still have to queue to get your tickets… and show your card… and sign a form. On an opening night of a film you’re losing any advantage that you had by pre-booking which other consumers enjoy by turning up and simply collecting from an automated machine.
My solution to this is relatively straightforward. A national 2 for 1 access scheme that any venue can opt into rather than setting up their own scheme or the current mishmash off confusing discounts. Extending the work already done by the CEA Card scheme where cardholders must prove their eligibility, I would charge slightly more for a credit card type membership which would simply hold 5 key bits of information:
- Qualification for needing assistance (DLA, registered blind etc.)
- Number of assistants required
- Type of access required
No more detail than that should be needed. Venues need to understand the number of people qualifying for this need is relatively small, but they are just as entitled to the same access as any other without the additional financial burden. It doesn’t matter if the person assisting them is a paid carer, a friend or family member, they still have that underlying need for assistance from someone they know and choose to assist them.
I’m writing this as a whitepaper and will submit it to the Office for Disability Issues. I’m also sending it to as many venues as possible to see who may endorse such a scheme. I’ve yet to come up with a scheme name, I’m still working on that. If any of you have any ideas, please let me know and I’ll post it on here when it’s done.