The Last Word


How do tram and rail passengers compare?

David Sidebottom, director at Transport Focus, analyses the drivers in performance of passenger satisfaction in tram compared to rail.

Results published in our recent Tram Passenger Survey (TPS) have seen remarkable levels of satisfaction by the six operators we covered in Blackpool, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield. Passengers gave them an overall satisfaction score of 93%, a trend that has consistently increased over the last four years. 

This time, Edinburgh Trams achieved a survey record with an overall satisfaction score of 99%, while Nottingham Trams is remarkably high and consistent as its satisfaction has ranged between 96-98% since our first TPS in 2013. As satisfaction is reaching new heights, consistently over time and across each surveyed network, rail passengers in Great Britain are still receiving a less consistent service. 

Overall, rail passenger satisfaction was 12 percentage points (pp) lower than tram users at 81% in our autumn 2016 National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS). Passenger experiences also varied considerably, from 62-97%, depending on the route they travelled. So why are tram networks receiving higher overall satisfaction scores compared to rail users? 


Whether tram passengers are commuting, travelling for leisure or business, overall passenger satisfaction is driven by local operators placing their passengers consistently at the centre of the service. On each major measure in our survey – value for money, overall satisfaction with the stop, punctuality and cleanliness of the tram – passengers are offered a service that they value to be frequent, punctual and reliable, and also feel personally safe to travel on. Across nearly all these measures, travelling every day by tram is considered a more positive experience for passengers. Satisfaction was often rated between 10-15pp higher by tram users. 

Delivering a high level of service for commuters is the critical difference between each mode. Rail and tram passengers have a fundamentally different service, widening the overall satisfaction rate by 14pp to 88%. Nearly two-thirds of commuters who used the tram felt it offered better value for money compared to a third travelling by train. Punctuality was also rated higher by passengers travelling by tram, 21pp more than rail at 83%. Commuters also felt trams offered more space to sit and stand and considered their service was timelier. 

The general helpfulness of staff is an important driver of satisfaction for tram commuters. Network-wide overall scores were rated overwhelmingly higher: the Blackpool and Edinburgh tram networks were each rated 95% respectively for this measure. While rail users rated their experience of interacting with staff at a comparatively low 56%, tram operators dealt with passengers considerably better, receiving a score of 81% by commuters. Satisfaction for all types of journeys was 86% for tram passengers, while rail was rated at 64%. 

Whilst recognising there are differences in the complexity of some rail services and networks over their tram counterparts, it is clear that the challenges for both tram and train operators remain the same. Providing a consistent quality of service is crucial to improving levels of passenger satisfaction. These tram networks are clearly delivering the service for their passengers who are in turn reaping the reward.



Jerry Alderson   11/07/2017 at 19:07

Re: How do tram and rail passengers compare? If the question is 'how do tram and rail services compare?' then the one big difference is that Network Rail is not involved in the tram services (at least not until the Sheffield Supertram tram-train service starts). Given that NR is responsible for the majority of the service interruptions and delays this could help explain why tram passengers are much happier than train passengers.

Peter Jarvis   31/08/2017 at 16:49

There are some independent railways and light railways which are outside the national system, which might be used as a comparison from their write-ups on Trip Advisor. One was criticised because passengers cannot go round the railway works .... I had not seen NR or the tramways criticised on that account .

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