NORTH CONWAY – When COVID-19 forced the Believe in Books Literacy Foundation to cancel its 2020 “Journey to the North Pole” fundraising train rides, which were to have begun Friday, not everyone was happy to get a voucher for a future trip.
In fact, Kate Coyne-McCoy, a grandmother from North Scituate, R.I. — who paid $685 for 11 tickets — was so unhappy that she said she has filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau and is also in contact with a dozen other ticket buyers who disagree with BIB’s decision to give them vouchers for rides in 2021 or 2022, rather than refunds.
On Wednesday, A.O. Lucy, executive director of the Intervale-based foundation and one of its cofounders, said Believe in Books made clear on its website — even requiring buyers to check a box acknowledging the policy — that they would get a voucher, not a refund, if the “Journey to the North Pole” was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Coyne-McCoy says she does not recall if she checked such a box when she ordered tickets on Oct. 1. “I acknowledge that’s on me; if he (Lucy) says the disclaimer was there, I believe him,” she said, but she remains adamant that the voucher policy is wrong.
Ticket buyers should be given the option of what remedy they want, she said, and not have it forced on them.
Lucy pointed out that until this year, Believe in Books had no cancellation policy for “Journey to the North Pole,” which runs weekends from the Friday after Thanksgiving until Christmas at both the Conway Scenic Railroad in North Conway and the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln, but came up with a policy because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In its first 25 years, “The Journey to the North Pole” had never been canceled, Lucy said, but if it had been, ticket holders would have received “nothing.” Now, they get vouchers, he said, as well as dibs on other benefits on those future rides.
But Coyne-McCoy said that’s not enough for her. She plans to direct her credit-card issuer to deny payment.
Lucy said the foundation thought long and hard before deciding last week to cancel the 2020 train rides.
“This is a fundraiser for us and a key one,” said Lucy.
In years past, profits from the “Journey to the North Pole” alone have allowed BIB to fulfill its annual mission of providing literacy programs to communities in Coos and parts of Carroll and Grafton counties in New Hampshire as well as in western Maine, said Lucy.
He explained that a factor in BIB canceling the “Journey to the North Pole” this year were the many calls the nonprofit received from would-be patrons in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont, where state governments consider New Hampshire a COVID-19 “red state” because of its level of infection.
If people from those states rode the “Journey to the North Pole” train, they would have to quarantine for two weeks upon returning home, said Lucy.
Lucy estimated that “well over half” of all ticket buyers had accepted the vouchers for the canceled rides.
To those buyers who argue that the cancellation policy is tantamount to a forced contribution to BIB, Lucy said “this is clearly not a donation. They’re getting a full-value voucher.”
Coyne McCoy said she has tried to sell her vouchers but gotten no takers yet.
“My point,” she said, “is this is a beloved organization (BIB) but they’re leaving a lot of people with a really bad taste in their mouths.”