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Acting Chief Executive’s first blog

13 January 2014

Hello and welcome to my first blog as the Acting Chief Executive of Passenger Focus. Anthony Smith is taking a short career break “across the pond” in sunny, or should that be freezing, California.

Anthony returns in late April having left these shores just before Christmas. I’ve stepped into Anthony’s shoes from my day job of Passenger Team Director at Passenger Focus.

As with most things in life timing is everything and it’s been a busy but fascinating first few weeks in the role. First of all, rail fares were published in late December – while it was still an increase, we were pleased to see the average regulated fare rise capped at inflation instead of inflation plus one percent for regulated fares as it has been previously.

It was also good to see that there was much less flexibility for individual fares to go up by more than this. Both of these are things we have called for and we were pleased that Government recognised the need to act. The pace of change can sometimes be slow, but rail passengers don’t exist in a bubble so anything like this change in fares policy can really have a big impact on people’s budgets.

We think it is now a good time to look at what rail passengers get back in return for their ongoing significant investment in Britain’s railway. The best measure of that is through our National Rail Passenger Survey (out soon) and one of the key factors has got to be how passengers judge the value for money of their ticket. Less than half of all passengers currently are satisfied with the value for money of the price of their ticket, and this drops to around three in ten for commuters.

Another thing that we’ve been calling for has been the introduction of a more flexible fares structure that delivers the type of ticketing products that passengers want and, more importantly, would value. Smart ticketing technology could unlock better value for money products for passengers – especially commuters who don’t do the traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday slog… Part-time season ticket products could appeal to thousands of existing commuters and attract new passengers to the railway?

Over the festive period the weather caused significant disruption to passengers and I think we should all acknowledge the efforts of so many railway personnel that went into providing services in difficult conditions.
At times of major disruption passengers crave information in whatever form it can be provided as long as it is accurate, timely and consistent. We monitored the information provided by the railway during the bad weather. We found some great examples where the industry kept passengers properly informed through a variety of media, however, there were also examples of conflicting and, on occasion, inaccurate information that will have simply confused travellers. We will continue to work with the rail industry, through the evidence we collated, to develop and share more of the best practices and to learn and eliminate the poorer examples.

We encourage people to claim where they are entitled to do so. It’s important that rail operators proactively tell people when they are entitled to compensation, and make it easy for them to do so. In our research on delays and compensation, a large proportion hadn’t claimed in a situation where they probably could have, and around three quarters of these said it was because they didn’t know they could or how to do it.

David Sidebottom
Acting Chief Executive
Passenger Focus

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