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Greater passenger engagement should be key outcome of PR18 – Transport Focus

Passenger involvement should be embedded as a key performance outcome in Network Rail’s 2018 periodic review (PR18), Transport Focus has said.

In his response to the ORR’s initial consultation on PR18, Mike Hewitson, head of policy at Transport Focus, said that current rail projects such as the works at London Bridge have been more disruptive because they did not involve passengers.

He said that while he agreed with the ORR that passengers should be given a greater role in the next consultation, this should go further by making passenger engagement an explicit high-level outcome.

Hewitson added that whilst TOCs are arguably Network Rail’s customers, they cannot provide a proxy for passengers because their interests sometimes conflict – for example, TOCs prefer to use a rail replacement bus service because it’s cheaper, whereas Transport Focus research shows passenger prefer using diversionary rail routes.

“We believe that there is no substitute for involving those who actually use services in the planning of those services,” he said.

“This view is strengthened by the fact that passengers are funding an ever increasing proportion of the railway – some 65% of the railways annual income is now via the fare box. This begs the question of why the main funder of the railway has no formal relationship with the infrastructure provider. Making engagement an outcome creates a mechanism to address this.”

Hewitson agreed that the ORR’s proposals for greater route devolution could deliver better services. However, he said that for the changes to be effective, “it will be essential that passenger engagement is built in from the start”.

As part of this process, passengers should explain their priorities for rail improvements during a consultation. Experts would then develop solutions based on passenger priorities, and passengers should be involved on consultations on how to deliver the changes and minimise disruption.

In addition, Hewitson said devolved routes should be accompanied by strong mechanisms for passengers to ensure they are accountable and transparent. He added that devolved routes should remain “part of a national network”, with timetabling and track access remaining consistent between regions.

Furthermore, Transport Focus recommended creating a mechanism for dealing with conflicts between local and national priorities and doing more to ensure that staff across the rail network have access to the same information about disruptions.

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Alan T   06/09/2016 at 08:47

Every user of the railways should have the opportunity to contribute comments, suggestions and ideas. However, be mindful that passengers will tell you about their experiences now and usually the bad ones. This is not a bad thing, but to properly engage them you need to coax out the 'wouldn't it be great if...' and 'how should the railways serve the country in the future...' and 'name 5 good things...', etc. It is also extremely important to understand that the rail passengers journey does not start when they get on the train, but when they leave their home. So be mindful of that to understand how the railways can better form part of an integrated transport system for everyone - walkers, bikers, cyclists, disabled, families, elderly and so on. Boy, I wish I could provide some input!!!

Jerry Alderson   06/09/2016 at 14:38

It's often best for individual rail users to go via a Rail User Group (RUG) or a nationwide campaigning organisation such as Railfuture (to which many RUGs are affiliated). That means that the lobbying of rail organisations can be productive by focusing on the key concerns of passengers (those in the middle of the' bell curve'). The real problem with Network Rail is getting them to understand that passengers are their true customer, not the TOCs that they are contracted to supply. After many years of NR refusing to speak to passenger groups they are now more open and talk at RUG and Railfuture public meetings. However, it's much more diffcult to arrange meetings with NR, whereas Railfuture has meetings with DfT, ORR and ATOC at their offices to push for things that matter to passengers, with some success.

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