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

29 June 2022

Struck by strikes

Standing on the balcony at Waterloo station, around six o’clock on Thursday’s strike day, was odd.  

The last train for Woking had just left. Only a few passengers were milling around the huge concourse. My overwhelming feeling was one of sadness.  

This great country has a great rail network. It should be teeming with passengers and energy. Instead, the atmosphere felt almost wartime-like, as the network shut down.  

Most passengers catching trains, finding other ways to travel, or working from home care little about the detail of the various disputes that have impacted the railway. They just want to catch a train.  

Passenger numbers and revenue were on the rise. These strikes, and the prospect of more, chip away at confidence. More people now have much more choice about when, how and if to travel. The bus strike in West Yorkshire, currently still ongoing at the time of writing this, only underlined the passenger misery.  

As you read in the lead article, we were out and about during the strike period checking information, staff visibility and passenger numbers. Generally, those passengers who needed to travel and had a service seemed to get on OK. However, the main grief was probably felt by those who had to cancel plans or find other ways to travel. We’ve noted where improvements must be made, and this will be fed back to stations and rail operators.  

The non-strike days also seemed to be generally OK. Clearly, the ‘only travel if necessary’ message had got through to many. 

Rail must remain an attractive option. That means the cost of running the network must be under control. Yes, train companies should check tickets and make sure everyone pays. Yes, the Government must do its bit to make sure the rail industry structure and planning processes are as efficient as possible. But modernisation is needed to keep pace with passenger expectations and modern technology.  

Lots of people are feeling the pinch. Lots of people could do with a pay rise. There must be an agreement at some point between unions and management.  

Meanwhile, there has been much talk about potential changes to rail ticket offices. As ever, when any firm proposals emerge, we have a role in this. Under the terms of industry agreements, train companies are required to notify passengers and give them an opportunity to have their say.  

Our role in this process is to receive these passenger comments, scrutinise the train companies’ plans and consider any mitigations. If train companies do propose changes, we will make sure passengers’ views are heard.  

But our focus isn’t just on the railway. Out on the roads, we are continuing to encourage National Highways to focus on improving journeys for those who use England’s motorways and major ‘A’ roads.   

We’ll soon be publishing the Strategic Roads User Survey 2021/22 annual report and we’re currently talking to people at motorway services for our motorway services user survey.  

We’re measuring the experience of those at services on National Highways roads – among lorry drivers and among those charging an electric vehicle. And we’ll soon be talking to cyclists, pedestrians, and equestrians in East Anglia as part of our ongoing research into what these road users need from National Highways. 


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