A whole-journey approach

Tim Bellenger, director of policy and investigation at London TravelWatch, argues the government must take action on what passengers most want to see improved across the network: value for money.

‘Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail’ is the title of the DfT’s recent ‘command’ paper outlining the direction of travel for Britain’s rail network. Curiously this paper says very little, if anything, about the subject passengers (and especially those in the London region, who are more numerous and pay more for their journeys) say that they want improvements in, and in which they are least satisfied: value for money. Many other very laudable and passenger-beneficial things are included in the paper, some of which do address parts of the ‘value for money’ question, but others are more in the area of public policy.

Research by London TravelWatch on what improves passenger satisfaction with value for money identified a range of short, medium and long-term actions that the rail industry and government can do to address this.

So does the command paper address these issues even indirectly? It promises a more reliable network, with more capacity, new routes and stations, smart ticketing, fares reform, better redress and compensation, and a more accessible railway – all of which in time make a contribution to the ‘value for money’ question.

Interestingly, the research shows that improving accessibility is seen by all passengers, not just the mobility-impaired, as giving them better value for money. Schemes to improve step-free access and reduce stepping gaps between platforms and trains are viewed as essential and worthwhile projects rather than nice-to-have extras. In an era when dwell times at stations are under pressure because of the growth in usage of the network, investing in better access will also help improve reliability and network capacity by allowing more passengers to get on and off trains safely and quickly. Works at key interchange stations such as Tulse Hill, East Croydon and Elephant & Castle to reduce stepping gaps have had reliability benefits over a wide area since they were introduced.

Similarly, charges for the use of toilets at main stations have a negative impact on satisfaction levels because passengers feel it is unreasonable to be asked to pay additional charges on top of their ticket price. Providing free-to-use toilets at stations would also mean that use of on-train toilets could be reduced, which would allow waste to be dealt with in a more efficient and environmentally considerate way than the complex and time-consuming processes that are needed to remove it from trains. There also performance benefits – the recent derailment at Paddington was partly attributable to rotting sleeper timbers caused by overflowing water from trains standing in the station for long periods.

Addressing the capacity and reliability issues that the rail network faces is fundamental to improving passenger satisfaction with this topic; in this respect, the command paper is correct to focus on these areas.

However, the industry can also make things better by acting on the many smaller and less costly but ‘basic hygiene’ factors, such as providing sufficient ‘free to sit’ seating, litter bins, shelters and wi-fi on stations, making ticketing simpler and easier to understand, improving staff knowledge of the rail network, better publicising when engineering works are affecting passengers’ journeys, operating ‘standard’ hour timetables and stopping patterns throughout the off-peak, weekends and evenings, and giving regular travellers on season tickets the option to spread the cost of their travel in the same way as they pay for their energy or insurance.

In summary, tackling the value for money question needs a ‘whole-journey’ approach to serving passengers by both industry and government. The command paper is a start, but now is the time for action.




Huguenot   27/02/2018 at 12:50

Yes, value for money is important, but I'm surprised that no-one has mentioned "integrated transport" as key. It might be OK in London with Transport for London in charge, but outside London interchange between modes can be appalling. The fragmented bus industry seems to have little incentive to serve railway stations (there are a few exceptions) and making journeys starting or finishing in rural areas can be impossible without a car -- and I'm not talking about tiny deep rural villages either. This can be true of substantial market towns too. Local authorities mostly aren't interested and haven't got any money anyway. As an example, my local bus service finishes at 7.30pm, so I can't come back from anywhere after that without using a car. So much for a "whole journey approach"!

Lutz   27/02/2018 at 14:01

@Huguenot:- Yet more people are choosing to travel via private transport and patronage is declining despite all the investment in the industry. As road vehicles move away from fossil fuels, the merits in support of rail investment drop a level or two. We also have new technology available to both road and rail industries that blur the merits and advantages of rail over medium-distance routes. Perhaps offering Oyster and similar cards as a means of payment for taxi services that would be one way to improve integration.

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