Moving towards a right-time railway

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 16

David Sidebottom, passenger director at Transport Focus, on how being honest about the quality of service passengers can expect is a key part of building trust between the railway and its customers.

How late is late? A commuter who gets into work five minutes late every day might not agree that their train is running on time. 

Passengers continue to report punctuality as their top priority for rail services, and yet there is still a gulf between what they and the rail industry consider ‘late’. 

While the industry standard ‘Public Performance Measure’ (PPM) allows a margin of five minutes, or 10 minutes for long-distance trains, we know that passenger satisfaction begins to drop after just a minute of lateness. 

Lack of passenger trust 

With passengers now paying over 60% of the cost of the railway through fares, it’s about time their views about punctuality are listened to. 

That’s why we worked together with the regulator, the ORR, to produce a report exploring this issue (Train punctuality: the passenger perspective, November 2015). 

We found that passengers expect ‘on time’ to mean a train arriving within one minute of the scheduled time, not the current industry standard of five minutes (or 10 minutes for long-distance trains). 

There continues to be low awareness of the current performance measures, and a lack of trust in how the rail industry measures train punctuality generally. 

For every minute of lateness, that is, after scheduled arrival time, overall passenger satisfaction declines by one and a half percentage points. Among commuters the decline in overall satisfaction is steeper at three percentage points per minute of lateness. 

Moving towards a right-time railway 

The ORR already uses right-time punctuality data to monitor the rail industry’s performance. Right-time data was introduced as a performance indicator for the rail industry in April 2014, and the regulator takes it into consideration when analysing punctuality and service performance across Britain’s rail network. 

It was another positive step forward when Virgin Trains became the first operator to publish up-to-date, comprehensive and clear punctuality data on its services. This clarity about how punctual Virgin’s trains are will go a long way to show passengers that the operator is on their side. 

Publishing information in this way gives a far richer understanding than the traditional percentage of trains that arrived within 10 minutes of the timetable. We have long called for a right-time railway and are pleased to see Virgin taking this step. 

It is now up to the rest of the industry to follow suit. Being honest about the quality of service passengers can expect is a key part of building trust between the railway and its customers. The railway is becoming smarter and more transparent, now is the time to show it is really on the side of the passenger.

It is important to not just measure what experience passengers actually had, but to be open with them about how services are performing. 

Customer Reports 

Following our calls for a greater voice for passengers in how rail franchises are decided (and are performing), we were pleased to see the introduction of Customer Reports. The government now requires new franchisees to produce a report at the beginning of its contract and to provide updates at least once a year. 

We carried out more than 20 focus groups looking at the reports from Govia Thameslink Railway, c2c and Abellio Greater Anglia. 

Overall, passengers liked the idea of the report and thought it was positive that new franchisees are required to make this information publicly available. However, although seen as a step in the right direction, people’s trust in the report is affected by their previous experiences with that operator. 

This could be improved by operators ensuring that they deliver on the commitments set out in the report, as well as honestly communicating to passengers if promises have not been kept. Many people also said they would like summary information to be displayed as they wouldn’t necessarily pick the report up and read it in full.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email



Jerry Alderson   12/08/2016 at 18:19

Open Access operators are required to publish performance figures. Should charter operators be required to as well? The results would make an interesting read! (People who are interested can get them from RealTimeTrains, of course.) It would be unfair, of course, as Forgotten Tracks specials would be much more vulnerable than those doing simple mainline excursions.

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