Transport User Voice – July 2021 – Chief executive’s editorial

29 June 2021

Passenger numbers up, satisfaction down

As the Victoria Line tube pulled in at Euston my heart sank. It seemed busy, with far more people than I expected. I gulped, drew breath and got on. Of course, it was fine. Not every seat was occupied, people stood apart and most were wearing face coverings. However, my experience is a small reflection of what many are facing or will soon face.

Whatever happens with restrictions, easing the habits of the last year and a half will take time to erode. Stay at home, stay apart, stay safe. Messages constantly repeated and reinforced. From our research we’ve seen that those who have been using public transport throughout have felt safe doing so. For many this is due to lower passenger numbers. Our weekly omnibus shows we may have reached the tipping point – as passenger numbers rise, inevitably satisfaction will dip as we find more fellow passengers on board.

This period will need careful handling. Honesty from governments and operators that social distancing will not always be possible. Good pre-journey information. Visible staff on hand. Plus, the consistent passenger need – reliability. Disruption was a problem before but now there will be much less tolerance – a cancelled or delayed bus or train means others will be more crowded.

It is great that our Strategic Roads User Survey is back in action. Although we’re unable now to do it face-to-face we are at last getting consistent, high-quality feedback again on the experience of using England’s major roads. Road transport has kept the country going in the pandemic and the safe, smooth and reliable operation of our roads remains vital for the economy.

We are working to help local authorities and bus operators as they prepare for the new Bus Service Improvement Plans. Our large-scale research into user and non-user priorities is out now – this should help match services to passenger needs. Our first toolkit, on how to get the passenger voice into plans, has been published. The second, on how to set and report against meaningful targets, will be following it shortly. Most importantly we will soon be able to say more about how to measure bus passenger satisfaction in a consistent, useful and comparative way across England – vital to measuring progress. We are trialling various different methods of doing this.

The arrival of more flexible rail tickets is welcome. They will help some passengers choose rail again but they won’t suit everybody and should be seen as the start of a process of full-scale reform of rail retailing. One of the few certainties around is that some people now have more choice – about travelling at all, when and how to travel when they do. That requires a more dynamic, flexible ticketing system to match needs. Multi-modal, zonal, capped fares in our major cities and towns will really help.


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