The Sleeper's Blog


Rising complaints, changing priorities?

On average this year, more people in the UK are complaining about the quality of the rail service.

Yesterday, the ORR released its quarterly analysis of complaints received about train punctuality, ticket-buying and onboard facilities and capacity.

Although the number of complaints has only risen by about 3.2%, it is interesting to note that these complaints come at a time of high investment in the industry.

Unsurprisingly, the highest proportion (21%) of these submissions related to the punctuality or reliability of services. The next most maligned subject was ticket buying facilities, which received a larger percentage of the overall complaints than the same quarter of last year.

On a positive note, 90% of grievances were closed within 20 working days which is a slight increase in the speed of replies compared to previous years.

Submissions sent through social media have not been included in the total because the definitions of what makes such correspondence a ‘complaint’ and the resources that each operator assigns to dealing with them vary so wildly that they have received a specific report.

However, with the prevalence of social media as a platform to air grievances, it seems important to mention that the total number of complaints received through official channels has not varied hugely between this year’s report and the 2013/14 edition.

Whether this is due to a disparity between the type of complaints sent on social media compared to other forms of communication or a difference in the demographic of people who send them is difficult to confirm.

This year did see a rise in submissions relating specifically to ticket buying facilities. The ORR’s report points to four TOCs responsible for this change – GTR, South West Trains, Virgin Trains West Coast and Great Western Railway all saw a rise compared to 2016/17.

The other factors that affected the increase were complaints about smartcards and delay compensation while there was a lower proportion of correspondence about train service performance.

Overall, the report shows a gradual change in some of the issues prioritised by passengers possibly caused by variations in the way people expect to be able to access services and buy tickets.


Andrew Sharp   30/10/2017 at 15:06

So Grand Central and Hull Trains are second worse in complaints/100,000 passengers. Aren't these, with Heathrow Express, the top-scoring train companies in customer satisfaction in the NRPS? To save you looking it up, the answer is Yes - Heathrow Express and Hull Trains both have 97% of passengers scoring the service good or excellent, and Grand Central is 94%. So why are they bad for complaints? Is there a problem with the methodology? Using a rate/100 000 passengers ought to smooth out the different passenger volumes.

J, Leicester   31/10/2017 at 09:16

Speaking as somebody who uses more "regional" and "rural" routes regularly, the spike in complaints about ticket buying does not surprise me. The introduction of "penalty fare" stations in particular bothers me, if only for the inconsistency of guards. Nowadays, if you ride without a ticket it's pot luck as to whether you face A) a guard with common sense who will issue you a ticket, B) a jobsworth who will threaten you with a penalty or C) nobody at all, followed by similar treatment to B once you arrive at your destination. People want a human touch. They want to get onto a train and have someone there to buy a ticket from. They don't want to have to use a machine on the platform and then be treated like a criminal if they don't, which can happen for a multitude of reasons from it being out of order, not accepting change, arriving too close to the train's arrival to buy from the machine or there being too long a queue to use it. The lack of advice on which tickets to buy for your destination from the machine pales in comparison to the information a good guard can give you too, and the complexity of the ticketing system leads to many buying the wrong ticket, which the "B"s of my list will then chastise and possibly fine you for. At change stations, too, buying an onward ticket often leads to an inquisition from staff as to why you didn't have a ticket for your full journey in the first place, another example of passengers being treated like criminals despite honest intentions. It's just another in a long line of moves that have stripped the "soul" out of the railway and reduced passengers to a mere inconvenience, and one of the few reasons I have any sympathy for those guards striking over DOO who actually do their job as it should be done. Which would be A in my list, of course.

Bryan   01/11/2017 at 17:01

As investment in services continues, it is interesting that the type of complaints being received is changing. And, having missed a number of trains due to ticket machine queues, I am not surprised that this issue is becoming an increasing issue. The abject failure of train companies to simplify fares, and lack of ticket office staff, also means that you often don't believe that you have got the best ticket. The number of complaints received per 100,000 passengers can reflect dissatisfaction with an operator but it can equally reflect the fact that complaint addresses are well advertised and people expect a reasonable response. Having dealt with Heathrow Express and Virgin West Coast complaints departments, for instance, it is no surprise that they get a relatively high number of complaints because those complaints are taken seriously and the operator is generous with compensation. One damning insight is "When asked about how they felt about the train company after complaining, 12% of complainants felt more positive about the train company, and 56% more negative". Having worked in customer service, I know that some people will never be satisfied with a response, but that really demonstrates a failure of customer service to me.

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