What, you may ask, is the point of that insight research?
In the course of speaking to over 170,000 transport users every year, Transport Focus uses, as you might expect, a variety of methods. Paper based questionnaires, interactive maps and face-to-face surveys underpin our new Strategic Roads User Survey (which will be unveiled next week at Highways UK, the same day our brand new Transport Focus Data Hub goes live). We also use internet-based surveys, focus groups, an emotional tracker and some social media tracking. Lastly, we have our Transport User Panel, which provides insight when we ask about specific issues, often related to recent events, such as the impact of ongoing strike action on Northern rail, which we published this week, or awareness of compensation arrangements for the disruption suffered last summer.
Our big ‘tracker’ surveys that examine user satisfaction on rail, road, bus and tram are representative and provide bench-marking data for other providers and industries. In other words, they give a useful sense of what the current travelling population are saying about their experience. Commuters’ views, the predominant users of road and rail, are given correct weight. Industry and Government can take action and prioritise investment on the basis of sound evidence.
At the other end of the scale, Twitter basically tells you how angry some people are. This can be useful information, but it’s in no way representative and the views of those minded to speak up the loudest do not offer a sound basis for long term action.
Most people now have a smartphone in their pockets. Could we somehow use these to gather feedback that is representative but gathered more quickly than traditional methods? Possibly, though in practice we still get back roughly one in four of the questionnaires we hand out!
This is a core issue that featured strongly during our recent conference with partners Heathrow Airport and has been widely discussed at other recent major events for market research professionals concerned with mobility trends and choices. Bluntly, there are no easy answers to this, though there are a few great examples from around the world.
My favourite insight of late was one offered up by Mark van Hagen at Netherlands Railways – Abellio in this country. Passengers getting on the yellow side of MerseyRail trains gave higher scores than those who got on the grey side when that happened to come in! More warm colours please!
As a core facet of the work done to deliver on its mission, Transport Focus will continue to provide representative, bench-marked high quality user feedback to help improve services and prioritise investment. We will also continue to modernise how we gather your views: watch this space.