What do passengers really think?

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 16

David Sidebottom, passenger director at Transport Focus, discusses the recent results of the National Rail Passenger Survey and new developments in recording passenger satisfaction.

We speak to well over 100,000 passengers a year across our rail, bus and tram surveys. As well as sending people out with questionnaires, we run focus groups and hold one-to-one interviews. Understanding how passengers think and want to be treated is core to our job. 

We surveyed more than 28,000 passengers as part of the latest round of our National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) – the largest and most regularly-published rail passenger satisfaction survey in the world. 

A slight increase in overall rail passenger satisfaction to 83% across Britain has started to reverse previous declines. However, the overall ‘big numbers’ don’t always tell the whole story. 

Longer distance and regional rail passengers have seen some improvements, while the sheer weight of passenger numbers in the south east has dragged the overall figure down. Commuter satisfaction was just 76%, compared to 85% for business and 90% for leisure travellers. Overall satisfaction peaked at 97% on First Hull Trains and the Island Line operation of South West Trains but this fell to 72% on the south part of Thameslink. 

Value for money and punctuality varies 

Satisfaction with value for money continues to vary widely: between 33% (Thameslink: South) and 78% (Grand Central: London-Bradford). 

We know that punctuality and crowding drive passenger views of the railway. Satisfaction with punctuality varies from 61% (Thameslink: loop) to 97% (Grand Central: London-Bradford). The gap in satisfaction with the amount of room for sitting/standing is starker: 46% (TfL Rail) to 92% (Grand Central: London-Bradford). 

Spiralling passenger numbers are making day-to-day operation and rebuilding difficult. Welcome and necessary long-term investment to cope with this growth is proving painful in places. 

Passengers rightly expect the train companies and Network Rail to keep to their basic promises with most trains on time, the right length and with few cancellations. 

In the Dec/Jan edition of RTM, I wrote about our work on managing and communicating disruption, after we published our report following the Reading and Bath engineering work. I would hope to see it being used at the earliest planning stage of future programmes. 

Big improvement programmes are in the pipeline for Waterloo and Euston – how will the industry make sure that passengers’ expectations about performance are managed right from the start of these projects? It is difficult to claim credit for investment when delivering it has caused unexpected levels of inconvenience. 

The NRPS is a critical tool for the rail sector, giving a really detailed picture of how things are working from the passenger perspective. But it does only happen twice a year. What can we do in the meantime to give an as-it-happens view? 

Monitoring social media 

We have carried out a pilot of monitoring social media traffic. As you might expect, people tend to tweet more about negative experiences rather than positive ones. However, it provides some useful insight into people’s reaction to what they see as ‘stock excuses’. There were examples of official Twitter accounts helping make a bad situation better by responding to specific requests for information or help, and providing clear information during disruption. 

We are also developing an ‘emotional tracker’ tool that uses a mobile app to create a log of regular passengers’ journeys and their experiences in real time. To inspire a ‘gut reaction’ we’re using pictures rather than words. I’ll be able to say more on this when we publish the first set of results, later in the year. 

Lastly, and potentially most interestingly, we are creating a user panel. We are initially focusing on rail passengers but hope to extend that out to all transport users – recognising that many of us use more than one type of transport on a regular basis and often in the same journey. 

We will initially be using those who have already responded to the NRPS, but expect to widen recruitment sometime this year. We are carefully screening applicants to make sure that we have a representative sample of people. It’s an exciting step and will allow us to be quicker, more reactive and even more useful to industry, government and transport users.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


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