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Company director breaches FTA over Elton John train journey

Company director breaches Fair Trading Act over Elton John train journey

6 December 2013

Former Christchurch based company director Roger Sutherland, has been convicted and fined $45,000 in the Christchurch District Court today and ordered to pay over $26,000 reparation on 11 charges of breaching the Fair Trading Act.

Mr Sutherland was found guilty of promoting and selling tickets for a return train journey from Christchurch to Dunedin for an Elton John concert, when no train was provided.

In February 2011, Mr Sutherland began advertising a “Rail Tour” to the concert on 25 November 2011. The rail tour was to start in Christchurch and make stops along the way to collect additional passengers. Passengers paid up to $219 per train ticket. For an additional fee of $60-$65 for a Celebration Class ticket, a meal and drinks would be provided, together with guaranteed table seating on the train.

However Mr Sutherland was made aware, as early as 1 February, that Kiwi Rail could not guarantee rail carriages. He continued to advertise for new customers. In July 2011 Kiwi Rail advised Mr Sutherland that no carriages were available for the date requested. Mr Sutherland continued to take bookings following that date. Mr Sutherland advised customers just three days before the concert that he would be substituting a bus instead of the train ride.

More than 220 tickets had been sold by this time for a total sum in the region of $50,000. Only a few customers who cancelled received refunds from Mr Sutherland for this late notification of a change in plans. For more than 40 other customers who sought to cancel, no refunds were forthcoming.

Judge Kellar said he was satisfied the offending was deliberate. KiwiRail had specifically told Mr Sutherland in February to be sure his customers were aware that no carriages had been allocated.

Judge Kellar said Mr Sutherland also appeared to have concealed the truth about the change from train to buses until the last moment. With no time to make alternative arrangements, most concertgoers continued with their plans and travelled by bus. Despite enduring the vastly inferior quality and nature of the transport that was ultimately provided, none of these customers received compensation for the change of transport arrangements.
Commerce Commission Consumer Manager Stuart Wallace said promoters must ensure definite arrangements are in place before they promote an event or accept money for services. In other words, “don’t make a promise you can’t keep.”

“What made this offer so attractive was that it was to be made by train, which offered a spacious social environment and the opportunity to sit at tables. It is unlikely Mr Sutherland would have had the same number of bookings at the price customers did pay if they had known they would be travelling by bus,” said Mr Wallace.


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