Sheffield Tram Train: 100 per cent passenger satisfaction – nirvana?

09 April 2019

The 5000 passengers who told Transport Focus about their last tram journey in our latest survey were – on the whole – a very happy bunch. Overall satisfaction came in at 91 per cent.

This time around the local authorities behind Manchester Metrolink, Sheffield Supertram, West Midlands Metro and Blackpool Transport joined Transport Focus in funding this survey. Manchester is the largest and busiest tram network outside of London (Croydon Tram being the biggest). Hopefully Edinburgh Trams and Nottingham Trams will come back on board next year.

Trams seem to attract and keep passengers in a way that buses seem to struggle to do sometimes. Reliability must be the key to this. On the railways and buses reliability comes up time and again as the key driver for satisfaction and one of the key priorities for improvement. The trams’ ‘right of way’ makes them more reliable.

Looking at the key factors driving tram passenger satisfaction confirms that value for money and the on-board environment also figure large – timeliness is well down. What makes a great tram journey? Again, the on-board environment and a smooth ride.

It’s a shame that trams are so expensive and difficult to build. Likewise, compared with buses, trams are relatively inflexible in terms of ramping up capacity for special events or changes in passenger numbers.

Tucked away inside the Sheffield results is the first independent, published passenger feedback on the new Tram Train. £73 million of Government money has been sunk into this new project designed to allow running in the city streets and on the rail network outside. Passengers love it, with nearly everyone saying they were satisfied overall.

While some of that cost will ensure this concept can be used elsewhere, the National Audit Office issued a damning report on the project. In a sense though, what is there not to like about new trains, improved stations and more choice?

Equally, it is also the case that the money could have bought a fabulous bus network for Sheffield and South Yorkshire – which highlights the disparity in funding between rail and bus projects. Not a case of either/or but it shows how bus ranks in the ‘funding league’ – buses remain the public transport mode that moves the biggest number of people, but the lion’s share of money goes to rail.

The Government is investing in bus through the Bus Services Operator Grant subsidy and new initiatives like the Transforming Cities funding, but it still feels like more could be done to better develop bus. Local authorities are struggling to meet their statutory responsibilities let alone to subsidise bus provision. The Transport Focus Bus Passenger Survey showed that passengers like the buses they have – they just want more of them, especially at the evening and weekends.

So, as bus use continues to be patchy and continues to decline in some places, the insight gathered by Transport Focus confirms there is a great opportunity for local and national governments to do more to expand bus and tram.


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