A human presence on empty stations

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2012

The McNulty review has suggested fewer staff at stations could cut costs. Dan Taylor, Passenger Focus research and policy adviser, considers what this will mean for passenger safety.

Over the next few years several rail franchises will be up for renewal. For those bidding to take control of the new-style franchises there will be a difficult balance to be struck between passenger needs and expectations and the requirement to run a ‘leaner’ railway. Many bidders have already talked to Passenger Focus about the questions that the McNulty Rail Value for Money study raised about the provision of passenger-facing staff and the impact that this might have on passenger concerns over personal security. The study, amongst other things, recommended moves towards Driver Only Operation and removing regulation on ticket office opening hours – presumably as a precursor to reducing retail staff.

In our discussions with the bidding groups, Passenger Focus has emphasised the value that passengers place on the role of railway staff, particularly when it comes to issues of personal security, ticketing and the provision of information.

In 2009 the work that Passenger Focus did on passenger priorities for improvement revealed that passengers placed personal security improvements such as increased CCTV/staff as 14th out of 30 attributes. We know through our most recent franchise research that on some parts of the network, such as Essex Thameside, improvements to personal security at the station are more important and can be placed as high as fifth.

The National Passenger Survey (NPS) tells us that satisfaction with personal security whilst using the station has consistently been low amongst passengers (68% Spring 2012), though on the train it is slightly higher (77% Spring 2012). These figures are lower still for those travelling in London and the South East as part of their regular commute and for those travelling after dark.

Reassuringly, 98% of people said that they would feel safe travelling by train during the day, but this figure dropped dramatically to 64% when asked to think about travel after dark. The main area of concern is being the time spent waiting at the station. This was particularly so at smaller stations where there are fewer passengers and a staff presence is less likely. When asked whether they had cause to worry about their personal security during a rail journey in the previous six months, over one in 10 passengers said that they had. The same passengers made it very clear that their main concerns, both on the train and at the station, related to the anti-social behaviour of other passengers and the lack of staff. Joint research between Passenger Focus and British Transport Police in 2010 revealed that the top three types of anti-social behaviour passengers consider to be very worrying are: abusive or threatening behaviour, theft of belongings, and people under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As for what could allay some of those concerns, passengers consistently identify a staff presence as being important for providing reassurance.

Those companies bidding for the new franchises therefore need to consider how staff are best deployed across the rail network to meet this need. Cutting the number of staff, either at stations or on trains, runs counter to what passengers actually want and could jeopardize their confidence in their ability to get to their destination safely.

In the past contracted security personnel, trained to communicate with the public, enforce byelaws and offer support/reassurance, have been used to try and enhance the security of both staff and passengers. Passengers are aware of these measures, but some have suggested that they are often unsure ‘who was who’ and what remit and powers each member of staff had. Therefore, whilst most passengers generally feel that the level of staffing on the railway needs to be increased, sheer numbers alone will not provide the solution.

Passengers believe that all rail staff need the appropriate training to help them deal with the difficult circumstances they have to work in and to ensure that they respond to passengers appropriately. They recognise the difficulties which staff face, but want them to be proactive in their approach to the public – making visual and verbal contact with passengers to demonstrate that they are ‘there for them’ . If staff fail to do this, and cannot easily be recognised, then their role in providing reassurance will be undermined.

Passenger Focus strongly supports staffing at stations. This is not only to provide tickets and information, and to protect revenue, but to offer a reassuring human presence which enhances passengers’ perception of security and acts as a deterrent to crime and disorder.

To achieve this staff must be visible and approachable. It’s important to show that there are real human beings, not just CCTV cameras, looking out for them.

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