Choices, choices, choices?

26 November 2021

How was your last journey? We ask around 1000 passengers this in our new rail and bus surveys each and every week. We ask them about overall experience plus a range of journey measures including punctuality, value for money and Covid-related measures like ventilation and face coverings. Each week we publish a report for rail and for bus, tracking passenger satisfaction and drilling down into some of the data in more depth. We use this information to help guide decision-makers, from Government to transport operators, to make decisions centred around people’s needs.

So, 10 weeks in, what have we found? Encouragingly overall satisfaction with journeys remains strong, with almost nine in 10 satisfied with their journeys. Keeping passengers happy has never been more important. Public transport continues efforts to rebuild passenger numbers, a steep challenge as we enter winter and uncertainty remains about the next phase of the pandemic.

This week we have focused on whether people have a choice of how to make their journey. Choice is good. Our previous research has found it helps people feel in control, in turn helping to build trust. It benefits consumers by ensuring companies have to keep improving to win and retain customers too. Of course, not everyone feels like they have a choice when it comes to how they travel. More than half in our survey said for their journey by bus or train this mode was the only realistic option they had.

Those who said they had a choice were more satisfied. 91 per cent of rail passengers and 92 per cent of bus passengers were satisfied with their journey overall, while 86 per cent and 81 per cent of those where it was the only realistic option respectively said the same.

Looking in more depth it’s clear there are some important differences between the two groups. On both rail and bus those making leisure journeys, aged over 55 or with one or more car in the household are more likely to say they had a choice. Why are those with choice more satisfied? Because their journey is more likely to be discretionary? Because having a choice means they can recognise it’s better than the alternative, but know they can vote with their feet if this changes? Those with choice are more likely to rationalise, ‘It must be good, or I wouldn’t have chosen this’? Or perhaps their service really does tend to be better than most?

Across rail and bus those with a choice of modes were consistently more satisfied on all measures, both in relation to Covid-19 and the more traditional journey aspects. Some of the differences are particularly stark. On rail the biggest gap is for value for money, with 72 per cent of passengers with a choice satisfied compared to just 58 per cent for those without an alternative. On bus the biggest difference is for punctuality with 84 per cent of passengers with a choice satisfied compared to just 66 per cent with no alternative. Our research has consistently found the cost and convenience of transport are key for decisions about how to travel. These gaps feel instructive. They point towards how both modes can be improved and made more attractive to those with a choice. Better value train tickets and more bus priority measures to improve punctuality are key to help more people choose public transport.

We’re uploading the latest data to our Data Hub every week. You can explore these and our other tracker surveys yourself. Take a look and dig into the data. We’d love to hear about what you find and how you use it.

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