Transport User Voice – February 2022 – Chief executive’s editorial

27 January 2022

Transport must meet demand

As restrictions change again around the UK, the demand for public transport changes with it. What we don’t know is by how much. The old world of public transport, rail in particular, has passed. These last couple of years have been a challenge for operators as they have had to be increasingly flexible to meet changing demand. The railway needs to once again adapt quickly to increase services now restrictions have eased.

What has been harder to flex is the pricing of services. While buses outside London have much greater price flexibility, rail is constrained by earlier consumer protections which need to be brought up to date. Peak and off-peak restrictions have, in places, become increasingly redundant. Some of us now have much more choice about how and when to travel and rail must market itself with this in mind.

The inability to do this could leave the railways in a state of limbo. Cost pressures could lead to a series of tactical cuts which will undermine the attractiveness of rail.

Talking of buying tickets, the pandemic seems to have accelerated the trend to buying online. Although many people still prefer the reassurance offered by buying from a ticket office. We will be publishing new passenger insight on rail retailing soon. One of the keys to building up revenue, winning back passengers and attracting new ones is going to be the ability to understand new customers. Data, as in so many other sectors, will be vital. Targeted marketing and the ability to make rail fares more understandable and, to a degree, fairer will really help fill empty seats.

This cannot be done at a stroke. A series of gradual changes can help prepare the way for longer-term full-scale reform of fares retailing once Great British Railways (GBR) is up and running. Local marketing teams, who know the routes and markets, need to be unleashed again, when the time is right, to sell both rail and bus travel.

We will be doing our bit to track and boost the growth in public transport. Our new rail passenger satisfaction survey will be trialled in field soon. We are actively engaged with the GBR transition team to ensure our insight activity is co-ordinated and complementary. The finishing touches are being put to our new bus passenger survey.

On the roads we have just tendered our new electric recharging benchmarking survey and we’re looking at the quality of lorry drivers’ facilities. We’re also continuing to track and understand driver satisfaction with our Strategic Road User Survey. This helps National Highways target its activities to make the most difference to the road user experience.

And we had some great news to start the year as our Board member, Keith Richards, has been appointed OBE in the New Year’s Honours List. This is in recognition of his services to accessible transport. Keith has chaired the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee for many years and has been a Board Member of Transport Focus since August 2018. His honour is richly deserved for his outstanding work. Keith makes an excellent contribution to our Board with his thoughtful and considered approach and is highly respected by his colleagues. He’s also a great pleasure to work with. Well done, Keith!


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