Coronavirus: watchdogs secure better information for rail passengers

29 June 2020

As the lockdown gradually eases across England, Scotland and Wales, Transport Focus and London TravelWatch are pushing for information to be crystal clear on bus company, train company and motorway services websites.

Why? So that people have the information they need to travel with confidence – or to choose not to. They are often simple things that will give reassurance and let people set out knowing what to expect and what they need to do. We’re after clarity about – among other things – face covering rules, social distancing arrangements and whether hand-sanitiser is or isn’t available.

What have we achieved so far?

We’ve just completed an assessment of train company websites and it shows that things are now much clearer for passengers since we first looked online. We’ve spent a lot of time on the phone speaking to train companies explaining why – from a passenger perspective – something wasn’t clear and pressing for improvement. And there’s been a lot of work put in by train companies too listening to our feedback and making changes. As a result, we’ve been able to give a green tick for all train companies against all the areas we looked at. All in all, it’s been a great example of the watchdogs helping operators to help their passengers. Thank you to those who have responded positively to our challenges.

We’ve also carried out an initial assessment of the websites of a selection of bus companies, transport authorities and Transport for London and provided feedback. We’re currently following up with discussions about why things aren’t clear, why what a website says could leave people in doubt and helping organisations think through how they can make things really clear.

This isn’t just a public transport exercise. We’re also in touch with the five companies who run most of Britain’s motorway services asking them to make sure websites are clear about things road users might need to know. We’ll then assess if that’s all crystal clear.

What have we learnt? Three key observations

  1. The problem that ‘the author knew what they meant’ is real. Transport operators need to look at their websites more often and do more sense checking that text is unambiguous.
  2. Transport operators didn’t seem to have put themselves in the shoes of somebody who hadn’t travelled for three months and thought about the extra information they might need. For example there is a lot in the media in England about needing to book for this, book for that – even for a pint from 4 July! Just because a train company didn’t operate compulsory reservations before Covid-19 won’t prevent passengers wondering if that’s now changed. Just make it clear, one way or the other.
  3. In striving for clear messages it’s easy to overlook caveats. We’ve challenged an unqualified ‘must’ in a number of instances. For example the law sets out circumstances in which somebody is allowed not to cover their face – that shouldn’t be glossed over. It’s important to those concerned, some of whom are disabled.

In week eight of our survey into travel during the Covid-19 (from the weekend of 20 – 21 June), the reopening of non-essential retail in England doesn’t seem to have had a major impact on travel – although more people are reporting busy roads. It is interesting to see the variety of opinion about how travel might differ after people are able to travel more freely again:

“Unfortunately, I think more people will travel by car because of social distancing, which will undo all the previous rhetoric about car sharing and use of public transport.”

“I don’t believe there will be a major long-term effect. It is plausible that some people who have begun cycling or walking instead of taking public transport will continue doing so, but I think the quantity will be small.”

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