Testing different survey methods

24 June 2022

Transport Focus champions the needs of transport users in Great Britain, with an emphasis on evidence-based campaigning, gathered in part through well-respected primary research. Key examples have been the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) and Bus Passenger Survey (BPS), measuring passenger satisfaction with representative samples of over 50,000 rail, and around 40,000 bus journeys annually. ​

Our surveys have been widely used and valued across the rail and bus industries. However they had some acknowledged limitations, including:

  • the fact they provided feedback at points in time rather than year-round or more frequently
  • that findings took time to be released (due to the method and publication process) delaying the industries’ response to results.

There have been comprehensive reviews of and enhancements to the surveys over the years but – partly for data continuity and partly because the reviews have not recommended major changes – the fundamentals of the surveys have largely remained.   ​ 

In 2020, passenger numbers were severely affected by Covid-19. Consequently, the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) and Bus Passenger Survey (BPS) were cancelled altogether for autumn 2020 and throughout 2021. During this time there have also been Government-led changes to the way that rail and bus services are managed and evaluated. This may have implications for the way that passenger feedback is used in future and therefore the way it is collected.​ 

While all of this necessitated a break in the continuity of NRPS and BPS data, in the meantime Transport Focus used 2020-22 to completely review and potentially update the way we measure passenger experience. We have reviewed possible future approaches to insight collection, including pilots of some options as detailed here.

Important information about the survey results

Unlike our regular surveys, the findings presented here are not based on nationally representative samples of journeys or of transport users. Additionally, the responses were collected in trials of data collection approaches, some of which we found flaws with, meaning we may do things differently in a ‘live’ survey. As such, they should not be considered to represent the overall experiences of transport users at the time of the research and should not be used or presented as such.


In 2019 we tried out Spotlight as part of a programme of work to enhance our rail user satisfaction work by providing in-the-moment rail experiences.
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'Push to web' approach

We trialled 'push to web' as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic meaning face-to face interviews were suspended. The method involves making initial contact by letter and encouraging people to take part in an online survey.
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Face-to-face recruitment

As public transport usage began to resume in 2021 we looked at returning to recruiting bus and rail passengers face-to-face to invite their feedback.
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Passenger-led survey using posters

We encouraged passengers to tell us about their journeys by placing materials that advertised the feedback survey on buses and at bus stops.
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Your Bus Journey

We looked at ways to expand on our trial of face-to-face recruitment of bus passengers.
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Rail Satisfaction Survey

Expanding on our trial of face-to-face recruitment of rail passengers.
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