Making essential journeys – how was your experience?
16 April 2020
While Government instructions are to stay at home, many people still have to travel. Transport Focus and London TravelWatch wanted to better understand the experiences of those who still travel for work, the shops and other essential services. We also asked about the experience of claiming a refund on season tickets.
We asked members of Transport Focus’s Transport User Panel for their feedback, with more than 5000 responses covering experiences from 26 March to 7 April. Click here to read in full.
Almost half of panellists hadn’t made any journeys by public transport or by car in the last seven days. Almost nine in 10 of those who hadn’t made a journey in the last seven days said this was because they were following the Government advice not to travel. Of those who had made a journey, the majority were by car and mainly for essential shopping.
While it is reassuring that so many respondents were staying home, of course some people need to travel, including key workers. While many reported trouble-free journeys and public transport being very quiet key workers – including NHS staff – reported a wide range of experiences.
“Bus had encouraged social distancing by taping off alternate rows of chairs. They also introduced free travel for NHS staff which has greatly helped me. Driver was very friendly.”
“Trains are now running on an off-peak service. I have to leave home 20 minutes earlier to get to work at the same time (I’m a nurse). Yet I still have to pay full peak fares despite this service not being provided.”
“On the Monday the train journey was still busy… in general the trains have become less busy since approx Wed 25th. It is more noticeable that surfaces are being wiped clean, certainly on my return journeys from Glasgow Central on the Kilmarnock line. No one talks on the trains and it is a very surreal experience.”
“I found as a key worker caring for people with confirmed Covid 19 that the bus timetable had changed to one per hour and I had to wait in the cold for an hour for my first bus. I then had to wait a further 30mins for my next bus. It made me feel more weary than when I left the ward.”
With so many people no longer travelling we also wanted to find out more about season ticket holders’ experiences of claiming a refund. At the time of our survey we found around a third of rail season ticket holders and only one in 10 bus season ticket holders on our panel had so far made a refund claim.
It’s important that transport operators make claiming a refund on season tickets as easy as possible for all those following the Government advice. Around a quarter of respondents who hadn’t yet made a claim for a refund on their rail or bus season ticket said they were either unsure if they could get a refund or of how to go about claiming. This illustrates the importance of clear information to help season ticket holders claim the refunds they are entitled to.
Bus operators are facing a very challenging time, but the industry needs to communicate and ensure customers who are no longer travelling receive a fair refund on their season tickets.
Those rail season ticket holders who had attempted to claim had mixed experiences, with around a third saying the claims process wasn’t easy. Many of those who had better experiences had visited the station to claim a refund, often before the restrictions were implemented on 23 March, or had been able to claim a refund by logging into their smartcard account online. On the other hand, some rail season ticket holders expressed frustration they had struggled to contact the train company.
Transport Focus has pressed for pro rata refunds and waiving of administration fees on rail season ticket refunds. Indeed some panellists expressed objections to having to pay an administration fee, were disappointed with the way the refund was calculated or suggested that the option to ‘pause’ their ticket until the restrictions ended would have been more helpful. There are lessons to be learned here to ensure that season tickets remain attractive to passengers in a period of uncertainty about future travel plans.
We have called for clarity and reassurance for rail season ticket holders. Since this survey was carried out we welcomed the industry’s response, with almost every train operator now communicating that season ticket holders claims can be backdated to 17 March if they followed the government advice not to travel (issued on 16 March).
Rail season ticket holders that have stopped travelling should claim soon to ensure they get the full value of their refund. Make sure you claim what you’re entitled to!
Click here to read the Coronavirus travel survey