How a summer meltdown helped deliver real-time feedback

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 16

David Sidebottom, passenger director at Transport Focus, reflects on the lessons learned during the recent Southern disruptions by using passenger feedback.

Readers will remember the torrid summer experienced by Southern rail passengers. 

Continuinued disruption, a temporary emergency (reduced) timetable, sinkholes and heatwaves all played a part. We wanted to monitor their experience in real time. We were also keen to show the human side of the problem; the effects in ‘real life’ of shorter delays. 

Already passengers using social media provide a constant stream of timely feedback that could be put to good use. To capture this data in a useful way, we asked passengers of Southern and the wider Thameslink network to use our travel diary app. 

Winning back passenger trust 

We used the experiences shared, alongside social media chatter and performance figures, to suggest ways that the operator could win back some passenger trust. 

Two ‘quick-win’ achievements that the operator, Govia Thameslink, realised from the anecdotal feedback were: 

  • Passengers were being sold tickets for services that weren’t running, so it was able to address the information given
  • People were reporting Passenger Assist services not being ready or not turning up at all – so it put effort into sorting that out quickly

We had also used our feedback to help in the push for better compensation. While this is still (at the time of writing) not a reality, we were pleased to see the operator offering enhanced compensation and actively encouraging passengers to claim for delays. They reported a significant increase in delay repay claims, which we welcome. 

But it still needs to go further – we want to see:

  • A one-off gesture to recognise the extreme problems faced up to now, such as a lump sum of compensation
  • Improved compensation from now on. Preferably this would mean the immediate implementation of the government’s welcome commitment to lower the delay repay threshold to

  15 minutes

  • A fares freeze for season ticket renewals 

Lessons learned 

So what did we learn? We already knew that passengers want and need, above all else, a reliable timetable. We build our lives around these services and pay handsomely to use them. Some of the comments reveal the frustrating impact of even short delays: 

“Luckily I was listening to the news so I heard that there was train disruption due to track inspections, meaning I had to plan another journey. That journey has only two trains an hour, so I will be late for work again. This is the first week in a new job so this is extra bad.” 

“The trains weren’t very frequent and they had to add extra stops to the train I did get, which meant it took even longer to get home.” 

“My train due at 08.56 arrived six minutes late which means I will miss both the connecting train and bus at Brighton and will be 10 to 15 minutes late to work.” 

“Having only one service an hour into Brighton available makes the commute to work rather stressful – missing the train by a few minutes makes me over 60 minutes late to my client in Hove.” 

“One impact of the new timetable is that I have stopped making many trips for leisure purposes. I know that I’m not alone in this. That might not seem as critical as journeys to work, but this must hit businesses in the leisure and tourism sector.” 

“Due to the special timetable with no London Bridge trains from my station, Thameslink trains are too crowded to board. Again made the three-mile trip to Morden by bike, then took the Tube.”

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