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Slow recovery in passenger satisfaction levels – now at 83%

The latest figures show a slight increase in passenger satisfaction compared to the previous year, though a series of other entrenched problems are “holding back a bigger recovery” in satisfaction, according to Transport Focus.

In the latest bi-annual National Rail Passenger Survey, the largest of its kind in the world, the passenger watchdog found that the average rail passenger satisfaction stood at 83%. This figure is based on surveys conducted in autumn 2015, and is two percentage points above that of autumn 2014, indicating that the figure was starting to reverse previous declines.

But there were massive variations, both in overall terms and in specific areas – particularly concerning value for money, with satisfaction by individual routes within operators varying from 78% (Grand Central, London to Bradford) to just 33% for Thameslink’s southern routes.

For punctuality, which has the biggest impact on passenger satisfaction, the national average stood at 78%, not far off its 77% last year, although individual operators varied between 98% (South West Trains’ Island Line) to 48% (Thameslink’s Wimbledon loop).

The transport watchdog suggested that many of the persisting problems from recent surveys were because of spiralling passenger numbers increasing the pressure on the rail network, both in its daily operations and during rebuilding.

Its chief executive, Anthony Smith, argued that passengers need to be involved “much more closely” in the planning of future big investment projects, such as Waterloo and Euston, to tone down the “painful process” of improvement and rebuilding works.

Commuters also bore most of the brunt of the railway’s issues, with overall daily commuter satisfaction standing at 76% compared to 85% business travellers and 90% leisure passengers.

Across operators, overall satisfaction varied between 73% (Thameslink) and 97% (First Hull Trains). The top spots, as usual, were dominated by open access and non-franchised services including Heathrow Express (95%), Grand Central (93%) and Merseyrail (93%), while Southeastern (75%) and Southern (78%) joined Thameslink at the bottom of the list.

Will Dunnett, managing director of Hull Trains, said: “We’re delighted to be first, particularly for passenger satisfaction, but what we’re most proud of is the consistency that we are showing. This is the third successive annual survey where we top the league and it’s testimony to our unwavering focus on delivering the best for our people and our passengers.”

A spokesperson for Thameslink acknowledged that punctuality was particularly poor at the time of the survey, but said many of the delays were outside their control, such as lorries “hitting one particular low railway bridge in Tulse Hill no less than seven times”, leading to 125 cancellations and delaying trains “by over 3,500 minutes”.

“Increased passenger demand and essential improvement work at London Bridge has made any problems that do occur on the Brighton Main Line and Thameslink route up to four times more difficult to recover from, as there is simply less room for the huge number of trains we run every day,” the operator added.

Passengers on regional routes were considerably more satisfied (88%) than those in London and the south east (82%), while the figure for long-distance travellers stood at 87%.

Travellers in the capital and the south east also complained the most about their ticket prices, with satisfaction levels standing at 43% compared to 61% regionally. For both Virgin’s West Coast and East Coast franchises, satisfaction ratings for value for money fell by five percentage points.

But the steepest falls across most factors were experienced by Gatwick Express. Overall satisfaction with the operator fell by eight percentage points compared with autumn 2014, satisfaction with its punctuality and reliability (which has the biggest impact on overall satisfaction) dropped by a staggering 12% and happiness with service capacity decreased by 9%. This was based on a relatively small passenger sample, however.

Gatwick Express’s operator, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), had already absorbed Southern and Great Northern at the time of the survey, having become the largest single UK franchise from July. The TOC’s four separate arms, which also include Thameslink and Great Northern, had some of the worst satisfaction figures overall, following on from similar findings in Network Rail’s and the ORR’s performance indicators.

Govia’s spokesperson said the operator will “redouble” its efforts with Network Rail to improve punctuality, “with Network Rail making track, signalling and other systems more dependable and GTR bringing in new, more reliable trains this spring and still more drivers”.

A Network Rail spokesman also told the Evening Standard that the organisation is “working very hard” on the reliability of its equipment.

“However, the very busy nature of the railway in Kent and south London in particular means that the impact of any problems is far greater than in the past and lasts longer,” he added.

Jacqueline Starr, managing director of customer experience at the Rail Delivery Group, also recognised that there is “more to do” to keep improving despite the higher national passenger satisfaction figure.

Transport Focus has published an interactive tool to make it easy to interrogate the NRPS data.

(Top image c. Gareth Fuller, PA Wire)


Huguenot   27/01/2016 at 20:27

Typical of GTR to blame bridge strikes and Network Rail for their abominable performance. And how they have the gall to say that they are brining in "still more drivers"! The fact is that in order to operate their published timetable, especially at weekends, GTR is dependent on voluntary rest-day working, and if they don't volunteer the trains don't run. What a way to run a railway.

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