Ensuring a fair compensation deal

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 17

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, on the importance of delivering fair compensation to passengers.

What makes a passenger feel that they are getting a fair deal from their train company? Our research shows that the absolute top priority is that the train should arrive on time. 

Good punctuality and reliability is the bottom level goal. But, with the best will in the world, this will not always happen. So if the train does not live up to that it is only fair that the passenger is compensated for the failure in some way. This is an important element in the relationship of trust between a passenger and their train company.   

Our research has told us that passengers just have not been claiming the compensation owed to them. In 2013, we discovered that just 12% of passengers eligible to make a claim actually did so.  This is an astonishingly low take-up rate. 

Progress made, but more to be done 

Which?, through a ‘super complaint’, called on the ORR to conduct an investigation into the problem and assess progress since 2013. So we, along with the DfT and the ORR, decided to reinvestigate. Through quantitative research of more than 7,000 passengers, we also looked at passengers’ experience of delays, their awareness of their eligibility to claim and their experiences of claiming.  

Progress has been made: this year 35% of eligible passengers claimed. But this should be far higher.  

So what have we learnt about passengers’ attitudes, behaviour and experience? And what can be done to improve take-up? 

Of those passengers who were eligible for compensation but did not claim, more than half were unaware that they could make a claim. Of those, some didn’t believe they were entitled to claim for that particular journey or simply didn’t think about it. There were others who didn’t think it was worth the effort; some thought it was too complicated; and, in some cases, others didn’t claim because someone else had paid for the ticket. 

There is also a link between the cost of the ticket and likelihood of making a claim. So the more expensive the ticket, the more likely someone is to make a claim. Also, the frequency of delays a passenger experiences increases their likelihood of claiming. 

Removing the barriers 

So, to get over these barriers to claiming compensation, train companies should do a range of things.  

Firstly, they should use different means to tell passengers when they qualify and how to claim. When asked, passengers themselves said their preferred means of finding out was through posters at the station (and also on the train) and by an announcement from staff on the train. Also popular was an automatic refund from the train company. It is also important to inform passengers when they qualify through announcements on the train and at stations or through forms being handed out. 

Secondly, TOCs should speed up the time it takes to resolve a complaint and also to send an acknowledgement. Passengers seemed to wait around three weeks on average for a response – approximately half were satisfied with this.  

Thirdly, the claims process should be swift and simple, with a choice of options for making the claim and receiving the payment. Claiming options could include an online method, an app or by collecting claim forms from ticket offices. Refunds could be paid through their bank account or card, or at the station, as well as through vouchers or cheques. 

And, fourthly, automatic schemes should be developed further.  

Eligibility concerns 

We also asked passengers their views on eligibility for compensation: 14% were dissatisfied with the length of time criteria that made them eligible. Half of those thought that it should be for delays of 30 minutes or more, but the other half thought 10 or 15 minutes was appropriate. For shorter journeys, the shorter compensation makes sense. 

Compensation for Southern Rail passengers has been topical given their very poor service. Under pressure from ourselves and others, the government has given season ticket holders on Southern a refund of a month’s price of the cost of the ticket. 

Interestingly, the government has recently announced that passengers on all GTR trains will now receive compensation for 15 minute lateness, rather than 30 minutes – known as ‘Delay Repay 15’. This will go some way to help. Similarly, Transport Scotland has just announced it will give one week’s free travel to monthly and annual season ticket holders for their patience while engineering works have caused problems for passengers north of the border. 

Clearly there has been some progress in encouraging passengers to claim. But there is far more that TOCs can do in making sure people are aware and making the processes simpler and quicker. Passengers deserve to be treated with respect, but particularly when things go wrong.



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