Transport User Voice – February 2019 – Chief executive’s editorial

04 February 2019

Rail Review, fares review and more wins!

As rail passenger satisfaction falls to its lowest level in a decade, the short-term focus is very much about re-building trust around a more reliable railway. In the longer-term, the Government’s Rail Review – led by Keith Williams – is looking at more fundamental reform of the structure, funding and operations of the railway. His final report is due in the summer, but initial thoughts should appear later this month.

Transport Focus has been supplying the Review team with detailed insight into what passengers want from the rail network.

The first submission – published today – outlines passenger needs and priorities: the role of better timetabling in the future development of Britain’s railway. Reliability, frequency, value for money and cleanliness all feature.

The next submission will focus on non-users and how to get more people to choose rail.

A final paper will look at what passengers think about the structure of the rail industry. To inform that, Transport Focus has been holding focus groups in Glasgow, Cardiff, London, Birmingham and Manchester to explore the issues. The report on this work should be out by the end of February. Rail minister Andrew Jones MP, and Peter Wilkinson, managing director of passenger services at the Department of Transport, were among the stakeholders who viewed the sessions (via a two-way mirror – which sounds odd, but it doesn’t ever seem to put participants off!).

When I was interviewed recently for ITV’s Tonight programme looking at the rail state of the railway, I explained that the structure of the industry or who owns different parts is not a major concern for passengers. However, they are very interested in the ‘outputs’ – performance, fares and investment.

There was also a lot of discussion in these groups about accountability. There did not seem to be a clear sense that anyone was holding the train companies to account, and to many participants the various train companies along with Network Rail do not seem joined up enough – too much blaming of each other.

The groups I witnessed seem to think that the franchise system works okay for longer distance services, but a tighter and more transparent accountability for commuter train companies is needed – the absence of choice requires this. Transport for London, with the mayor’s clear accountability, was mentioned as a good example. You sensed Transport for London is seen as a public/private partnership but the railway more private/public. Maybe changing that could help shift perceptions.

Meanwhile, the Rail Delivery Group/Transport Focus consultation on fares reform will publish its initial findings and potential ways ahead later this month. This will, in turn, feed into the Rail Review.

I also want to take this opportunity to highlight a selection of other recent big or small wins secured by Transport Focus on behalf of transport users:

  • Damaged signs on the A27 in Sussex are being replaced earlier than planned by Highways England after Transport Focus saw the terrible state they are in.
  • Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, invited Transport Focus to share headline results from its bus and young people’s research during a press briefing held to launch Manchester’s 16-18 year-olds’ free bus pass. This was to help illustrate what young people want from their bus services.
  • Network Rail has made toilets free at Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool Lime Street stations, with others to follow. Feedback from our National Rail Passenger Survey showed passenger frustration with charges.
  • Higher speed limits in roadworks were set on the M6 at Christmas – a win that follows directly from Transport Focus’s incidents and roadworks research.
  • A new through-fare from Redhill to Eynsford in Kent via Edenbridge is now available – a direct result of Transport Focus taking up an issue on behalf of a passenger who can now get hold of better value for money tickets for his journey.
  • Transport Focus and its bus passenger research were also extensively referred to by bus operators and Merseytravel during their oral evidence to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee inquiry when members of parliament went to Liverpool.

Finally, I want to flag a chance for members of the public to join a series of workshops in Exeter, Oxford, York and Colchester taking place over the next few weeks. Participants will explore ideas for making bus a better choice for young people. For more information about how to sign up for these events, please read the article in this issue of Transport User Voice about Promising developments on the buses agenda.

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