SURVEY RATINGS HEAD IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
6 August 2015 | Author: Anthony Smith, Chief Executive, Transport Focus

What will the man or woman waiting on Balham station make of the recent announcements about rewriting the five-year rail investment plan? Not much – they are more focused on when the next train is coming. However, the news probably erodes trust in the rail industry a little more, and probably makes people a little bit more resentful of the fares they are paying – often on the promise of future improvement – and probably just a little bit more cynical about future promises.

The Government has done many of the right things; it has introduced a long-term plan backed by serious investment. There is a consensus among the industry, the regulator and many stakeholders. Investment capacity will lead to more, longer and more reliable trains. All this is calculated to feed the virtuous circle of more passengers, more revenue and more investment. In the meantime many passengers are feeling the side effects of this investment.

Our recent National Rail Passenger Survey showed another drop in overall satisfaction across the country (except in Wales).

Transport Focus talks to around 60,000 passengers a year in what is the biggest published survey of its kind. In January to March 2015 we found that eight in ten passengers across Britain were satisfied with the service overall – down from 82% in spring 2014. Satisfaction with punctuality is down to 75% (from 77% in 2014); this figure drops to 65% for commuters. And crucially, value for money ratings continue below the halfway mark, at 45%. The overall scores were dominated by weak results for four of the major commuter train companies in the South East: Southern, Govia Thameslink Railway, Southeastern and Abellio Greater Anglia.

In particular, the London Bridge rebuilding scheme, which aims to increase capacity, is itself causing disruption. We're working with train companies and Network Rail to try and minimise the impact on commuters. Less than half the passengers in our survey were satisfied overall with London Bridge station (49% – down from 64% in 2014), and over- all satisfaction with the journey for passengers who started their journey at London Bridge was 59% – down from 70% in 2014.

Following months of disruption in the South East, Transport Focus has been asked to be part of a taskforce to help tackle it. Set up by rail minister Claire Perry, the group will focus on immediate improvements. As part of this work, we will develop ways to get instant feedback that will stand alongside the National Rail Passenger Survey to help us monitor more frequently whether improvements are being felt by passengers.

There were big changes for Scottish rail passengers this year with new operators both for ScotRail and the Scotland-London sleeper service. Our survey was carried out when the service was still provided by First ScotRail (it is now operated by Abellio). A drop in satisfaction in autumn 2014 was halted, and almost nine in ten ScotRail passengers were satisfied with their train service. An overall satisfaction score seven percentage points higher than the national average, ScotRail passengers recorded a value for money rating of 60%.

For the first time, our passenger survey has been built into the new franchise contract to monitor how the operator is working to improve overall passenger satisfaction and how well it deals with delays. Meanwhile Serco has agreed on a bespoke Caledonian Sleeper passenger survey, putting passengers at the heart of its service.

In Wales the national trend was reversed with a five percentage point increase from the spring 2014 survey – almost nine in 10 (89%) of those using Arriva Trains Wales were satisfied.

Looking ahead, what are the priorities? The five-year plan needs to be based on an agreed understanding of the resources available, the cumulative impact of various schemes and how much rebuilding passengers can bear. The industry needs to develop measurements of its own performance that more clearly reflect passengers' experiences.

The pass/fail of the abstract public performance measure has the twin drawbacks of not meaning anything to passengers and painting a very unrealistic picture of what is actually happening. For years we have been saying to the industry: just tell us the right-time performance of trains both en route and at their final destination. Passengers want information on their own train. Open up the data. Tell us how many trains were early, how many one minute late and so on. At present, the industry is probably under-rep- resenting the fact that most trains arrive pretty near their scheduled time most of the time.

We will be adding to this debate soon by publishing work on how passengers view train performance and the balance between the number of trains, the number of seats and reliability. It seems crucial to us to start the debate about future planning and performance reporting. Without it, you have little hope of ending up with happier passengers.


Reference: Transport Times, July-Aug 2015 Issue

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