Comment

01.05.18

A chance to rebuild trust

Source: RTM April/May 2018

The rail industry has a major trust problem, with passengers finding it difficult to navigate compensation claims after they suffer through delays and unreliable services. But Alex Hayman, Which? managing director of public markets, says smart ticketing could be the solution.

The rail industry plays a vital role in our national life. A network that functions well greases the wheels of our economy and improves the lives of millions of people who rely on trains to get to work or to travel around the country in their leisure time.

Unfortunately, in this country there is broad agreement that our railways are not working as well as they should – certainly not for the thousands of passengers we have heard from.

For too long, people have been putting up with poor service, cancellations and delays from rail companies across the country.

Complaints about reliability, overcrowding and dirty trains also persist – particularly galling when information about the latest annual ticket price increase lands on the doormat or in the inbox.

What does all this add up to? An appalling lack of trust in the industry from those who should value it the most. According to the Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, trust in the rail industry sits at 26% – only car dealers have a lower rating.

Of course, not all of the problems listed above are the fault of train companies. But we believe the industry could be doing much more to meet passengers’ expectations.

Current progress is not enough

That is not to say there has been no progress. When companies do go the extra mile for their customers, Which? is keen to give credit where it’s due.

When Stagecoach, running South Western Trains, carried out an extensive network upgrade in 2017, we were impressed at how it engaged with passenger groups to minimise disruption and ensure staff were in place to keep customers informed and help them make alternative arrangements.

Everyone accepts there will be occasional disruption to the railways, but at the moment passengers are too often left in the dark as their plans and routines are thrown into chaos.

We need to see more examples of operators opening a dialogue with their passengers and working to ensure the impact on their lives is minimised – that would be a good first step towards rebuilding that lost trust.

It has also been encouraging to see a handful of companies voluntarily introduce automatic Delay Repay compensation. However, we would like to see this approach extended more widely and across a broader range of tickets. Smart ticketing should provide an excellent opportunity to do this.

Passengers are still finding it much too difficult to claim compensation when things go wrong. In our annual passenger satisfaction survey, a quarter of commuters who claimed compensation said the process was difficult. Of those who did complain about their rail service, one in five also found the process challenging.

Which? recently won an important victory for passengers left out of pocket after having to pay necessary expenses such as a taxi home or a hotel stay when their train is delayed or cancelled.

Although the Consumer Rights Act (CRA) came into force for the rail industry on 1 October 2016, we had found evidence of train companies telling customers they were not entitled to claim for consequential losses when a service had not been delivered with “reasonable care and skill.”

We wrote to operators and told them they should not have been using the National Rail Conditions of Travel to stop consumers making legitimate claims under the CRA.

More than a year after we first raised the issue, the rail industry agreed in March to amend its terms and conditions to remove any misleading terms. The terms stated that passengers were not entitled to consequential loss in the event of a train company failing to deliver the service as they should.

Which? welcomes opportunities to work with the industry to deliver a network that works better for consumers and train companies.

So it was disappointing when, in response to the changes regarding consequential loss, public statements to passengers from the Rail Delivery Group seemed designed to deter their customers from enforcing their rights – hardly the right way to go about rebuilding trust.

It was no surprise a few days later when rail minister Jo Johnson gave his support to passengers seeking to make claims for consequential losses.

Automatic compensation

Our research has shown that seven million journeys were significantly delayed last year, and satisfaction with delay handling has been persistently low for more than a decade.

Passengers are also finding it too difficult to claim compensation when things go wrong. We found that only four in 10 (37%) of all train passengers who are eligible for compensation actually claim it.

These basic failings make the case even stronger for automatic compensation to be introduced across the industry – and smart ticketing provides the ideal opportunity to make it happen.

The roll-out of smart ticketing will make it easier for train companies to make automatic compensation the norm for passengers when they are owed it.

c2c has led the way in this area, introducing automatic Delay Repay refunds in two minutes for smart ticket passengers. That’s how to build up goodwill with your customers.

We want to see and acknowledge more companies going above and beyond the minimum standard to give their passengers a better service. Automatic compensation should be introduced as quickly and widely as possible across the entire rail network and by all train companies. In the short term, operators should do more to inform passengers of their rights to compensation and how to claim.

Smart ticketing is a chance to make services better and more efficient for passengers and to start changing the conversation with train companies. We look forward to the industry taking these important steps towards restoring passenger trust and building a rail network we can all speak about with pride.

 

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