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Transport User Voice – February 2019 – Worst satisfaction in 10 years

04 February 2019

National Rail Passenger Survey Autumn 2018

In the latest results from our National Rail Passenger Survey – published on 29 January – overall satisfaction with passengers’ last journeys fell to 79 per cent, its lowest level since 2008.

Transport Focus asked nearly 27,000 passengers about their latest journey during a ten-week period last autumn. With worsening punctuality, the timetable chaos last summer, and a series of lamentable strikes, it can be no surprise to the rail industry – or ministers – that one in five passengers (21 per cent) was not satisfied.

Governments and passengers are investing huge sums in the railways to catch up on historic under-investment. New, longer trains are starting to appear across the network and many stations have been improved. Timetables have been changed to offer more choices of trains and destinations. But delivering these improvements has been painful. Irritation at delayed and cancelled trains is eroding passengers’ most basic trust in the industry. Anger during the summer timetable crisis was palpable, and frustration at continual fare increases saps confidence in the system to reform itself. So, until the basic promise of more space on reliable and more frequent services arrives, Transport Focus knows that passenger trust and satisfaction will not recover.

Comparing overall satisfaction in autumn 2018 with the same measure a year earlier, just two (out of 25) train companies significantly improved: Heathrow Express and Chiltern Railways. By contrast, seven operators earned a significantly poorer rating: Great Northern came out the worst, followed by Northern, TransPennine Express, Greater Anglia, Thameslink, ScotRail and London North Eastern Railway. There was also a gap of 27 percentage points between the train company with the highest and lowest overall satisfaction rating.

When it comes to punctuality, the percentage of journeys rated as satisfactory overall across the country was 71 per cent, down from 74 per cent in autumn 2017 and substantially lower than the 81 per cent recorded in autumn 2008.

Little wonder that less than half (46 per cent) of passengers rated their journey satisfactory in terms of value for money in autumn 2018, a figure unchanged from a decade ago in autumn 2008. Among commuters, just 31 per cent of those surveyed shared that sentiment, so nearly seven out of 10 were not satisfied, another figure that is lower than in 2008 when it stood at 33 per cent.

Looking at how train operators dealt with delays, satisfaction averaged only 37 per cent this time around, but ranged between 29 per cent (Southern and Thameslink) and 77 per cent (Grand Central).

Long-distance operators fare somewhat better: passengers rated 83 per cent of journeys satisfactory overall in autumn 2018 – better than the national average but still a drop from 86 per cent in autumn 2017 (and 84 per cent in autumn 2008). Punctuality/reliability fell markedly (down 7 per cent on autumn 2017) but satisfaction with the reliability of internet connection rose 5 per cent – an easy win for many operators, based on what passengers told us a year or two ago.

On regional operators, overall passenger satisfaction matched the national 79 per cent figure – a significantly lower rating than the 86 per cent recorded in 2008. Punctuality remains the biggest driver of satisfaction on regional services – at its lowest level for 15 years (autumn 2003). In London and the South East, overall satisfaction now sits at 78 per cent, below the national average and significantly down from 80 per cent a year before, and 82 per cent in autumn 2008.

In Scotland, overall passenger satisfaction with ScotRail services also fell in autumn 2018 to 79 per cent, a 16-year low. While recent announcements about extra compensation for disruption are welcome, ScotRail and Network Rail must keep their basic promises (to deliver more trains, additional capacity, better punctuality and shorter journey times) while also providing better information during any disruption.

In Wales, results gathered during the closing months of the Arriva Trains Wales franchise reflect passengers’ severe disappointment with outdated rolling stock. Satisfaction with the upkeep and repair of trains fell to 61 per cent (compared to 69 per cent in autumn 2017) and to 68 per cent (from 74 per cent in autumn 2017) for satisfaction with the cleanliness of train interiors. The new operator – Transport for Wales – is rightly focusing on efforts to improve rolling stock and other aspects of the passenger experience.

In summary, governments and the industry must pay close attention to what passengers are saying and focus in the short term on driving up performance, so that a better value for money and more reliable railway arrives soon for passengers.

In the longer term, the Rail Review must drive fundamental change. On that topic, you can read the first submission made by Transport Focus to the Williams Rail Review, which we have also published today.

To read full results of the latest National Rail Passenger survey or the at-a-glance guides for Great Britain as a whole and individual train companies, visit the survey home page.

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