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Transport User Voice – July 2019 – Rail reform – speaking up for passengers

Transport Focus papers to the Rail Review trust and representation

While the latest NRPS results do rather suggest that major investment in infrastructure projects and new trains will help, these changes won’t rebuild trust in the railway by themselves. Rail operators must also deliver a careful balance of doing what is supposed to be done, showing care for customers and demonstrating a human sense of treating people well and fairly.

Against that backdrop Transport Focus argues it is vital that the William’s Rail Review delivers proposals that place a good relationship with passengers at the centre of any reform programme. In support of that it recently prepared and submitted two final papers to the Rail Review on passenger trust and representation.

In its fourth submission to the Rail Review Transport Focus opted to highlight which train operators scored best and worst for levels of public trust over the past two years, using data – specifically on trust – from four waves (2017 and 2018) of the National Rail Passenger Survey. As that paper explains this research flagged some wide variations between train operators that keenly reflect the passenger experience: the best long distance operators achieve trust scores of 70 per cent or more. Some regional or commuter networks do almost as well at 66 per cent but several fall below 25 per cent and the worst fell to 17 per cent at one point.

Asked to compare the rail industry to other key sectors, passengers still rate it better than banks or energy suppliers but somewhat worse than airlines and well behind the NHS or supermarkets. Clearly, alongside efforts to improve punctuality and reliability, attention must also be paid to improving communications and transparency, giving passengers a greater voice, and providing better information about disruption and delays.

On a related theme Transport Focus’s fifth and final submission to the Williams Review examined the case for independent passenger representation, and how to increase engagement with passengers in strategic planning, implementation and monitoring of the railway.

Transport Focus does not believe that train companies can act as a proxy for passenger interests when dealing with Network Rail and other agencies. There will always be instances where commercial interests do not match passenger aspirations. Industry will rightly seek out and listens to the views of individual customers, but it’s all too easy to sideline and marginalise these voices. Moreover, given that passengers fund an ever-increasing proportion of the railway through the fares they pay, there can be no effective substitute for involving passengers in decisions about planning and delivery of services.

There is also nothing new about recognising a need for professional, independent consumer representation which can sit alongside direct engagement between industry and its consumers. On rail statutory passenger representation began in 1947. It then changed radically and was reinvigorated at privatisation, evolving swiftly to employ independent consumer research of high quality to capture, collate and amplify the passenger voice.

So while the model may have evolved, the need for independent passenger representation and the value of it has not fundamentally changed.

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