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TOCs must do more to win passenger trust – Passenger Focus

Train operators across the board must do more to win the trust of their passengers, a new survey from Passenger Focus suggests.

The watchdog’s study involved 4,000 online interviews, with most operators scoring poorly for everything from punctuality and reliability of services to communication about delays.

In particular, operators in London and the South East inspired less trust, with Southern and Southeastern scoring the worst, followed by First Great Western and First Capital Connect. They scored poorly due to the unpredictability of their services, their inability to communicate well with passengers, expensive fares and overcrowding.

FirstGroup said it was working to improve communication, through development of mobile sites and apps and had started an initiative whereby passengers could earn Nectar points. “The detailed survey shows us clearly where we are making progress but we know there is more we can do,” it added.

The RPTS attempts to examine different ‘levels’ of trust – which it classifies at ‘Trust in Service’ (functional, day-to-day service delivery), ‘Trust in Relationship’ (engagement, communication and emotional factors), and ‘Trust in Judgement’ (integrity, motives and reputation). 

Grand Central, the open access operator which operates services between London King’s Cross and the north east, had some of the best trust scores, and was notable for having the only positive ‘Net Promoter Score’ (whether people recommend something on a scale of 0-10; those scoring 9 or 10 are ‘promoters’, those scoring 0 to 6 are ‘detractors’, and the net score is promoters minus detractors).

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Merseyrail and ScotRail were also positive scorers when interviewees were asked how much they trusted their operator to provide a good day-to-day service, while Virgin was the big winner when interviewees were questioned on how much they trusted an operator’s ‘judgement’, where passengers were asked about operating having the right principles, doing the right thing (even when no-one is looking), having a good reputation in the industry, being progressive in developing services, and showing leadership in the rail industry.

Phil Whittingham, Virgin Trains’ lead executive, said: “For us, operating a train company is about much more than getting passengers from A to B. It is about ensuring they have the best possible customer experience, are well looked after and get all the information they need. As part of this, we’ve used technology to drive new ways of communicating with passengers, building by far the biggest Twitter following of any UK train operator.

“But most of all, these results come from the great work our people do in building relationships with customers, exceeding their expectations of customer care day-in and day-out.”

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Richard McClean, managing director of Grand Central Rail, said: “We are very pleased to note the high levels of trust in Grand Central Rail as reported by our passengers. The long-term support of our passengers and stakeholders is something we value very highly and we endeavour to treat passengers fairly and act with honesty and integrity at all times.”

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When compared to some other industries, customers were much more positive about the railways (with a net result of +39% positivity) than energy companies (-30%) or banks (-5%), but less than airlines (+41%), supermarkets (+54%) or the NHS (+59%).

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Passenger Focus said the Rail Passenger Trust Survey (RPTS) was commissioned “to explore the apparent ‘gap’ between journey satisfaction, as measured by our National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS), and perceptions of TOC performance as reported in the media and on social networks”.

Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus’s chief executive, stated that there is much that train companies – and governments – can do to improve trust. 

“It is important for train companies to get the basic service right ahead of everything else,” he said. “Then building on closer relationships with their passengers is important. One way is through high quality communication. Passengers should feel that train companies are ‘on their side.”

The watchdog has also called for these issues to become part of new rail franchises.

The report notes: “Overall, passengers do not lack faith in the TOCs’ leadership and principles. However, this dimension of trust is the least important, as the day-to-day interactions are more critical in shaping people’s views.”

It adds: “Statistical analysis shows that ‘last journey’ satisfaction, as measured in this research, is in fact more closely linked with passenger trust than it is with industry measures of punctuality or performance. Therefore, improving TOC relationships with customers at an overall level may contribute to an increase in satisfaction with individual train journeys. For example, although the punctuality of the service is important, being open and honest in communicating with customers about the reasons behind any delay is also critical.”

Michael Roberts, director general of the Rail Delivery Group, added that passengers are at the “heart of what we do” and “we know that we must keep improving, driving up the quality of services to respond to their needs”.

Transport minister Robert Goodwill added that £38bn will be spent over CP5 to maintain and improve the railways. “This is bringing more trains, more seats and more services. We are doing our bit, but the industry needs to work hard to inspire trust among their customers who expect a reliable service that offers value for money,” he noted.

The executive summary of the report can be downloaded here:

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


All chart images copyright Passenger Focus, reproduced from:


Jak Jaye   15/08/2014 at 15:58

Wasn't Privatisation supposed to solve all this? or am i missing something

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