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Punctuality and Transparency

Arriving on time is clearly important to rail passengers. But did you know quite how important? Analysis of the National Passenger Survey, which Transport Focus carries out twice each year, shows that punctuality and reliability is the most significant factor determining most passengers’ overall satisfaction with the journey. Click here to view this analysis for the Autumn 2012 survey

We have also examined how passenger satisfaction with punctuality changes as trains become late. This analysis involved comparing thousands of passengers’ actual experience of delay on the day they filled in their NPS form (using train companies’ historic records) with how satisfied they were with punctuality and reliability on that particular journey. The results are fascinating, showing that many passengers’ satisfaction with punctuality reduces as soon as a train is just one minute late, with commuters being particularly unforgiving. The analysis, involving National Express East Anglia, Northern and CrossCountry passengers showed that, on average, satisfaction with punctuality fell by between two and three percentage points per minute a train was late. East Coast passengers, on average, were slightly more tolerant of delay, largely because a long distance train company has a greater proportion of leisure travellers who are often making less time-sensitive journeys. Amongst the East Coast sample (9,406 passengers) satisfaction with punctuality dropped noticeably after two, five and eight minutes delay.

Two key points stood out from the work Transport Focus has done in this area. First, that passengers appear to ‘feel’ delay before the rail industry’s key measure of Public Performance Measure (PPM) regards a train as late. PPM regards a train as late after five minutes delay for shorter journeys and 10 minutes for long-distance trains. Second, that many passengers will get off trains that arrive late at intermediate stations (which leaving an urban centre in the evening can be the majority of passengers), but those trains go on to be counted as on time at their destination.

In the light of this work Transport Focus has been and continues to advocate:

  • The rail industry must focus more on getting trains to arrive actually on time (what the industry refers to as ‘right time’) – and not just within the margin allowed by PPM
  • That there must be focus on punctuality at intermediate stations and not just at the train’s destination, to make sure ‘passenger lateness’ is not hidden by counting trains only at destination
  • That in the interests of transparency and greater accountability, it should be possible for passengers and other stakeholders to have ready access to more data about how punctual trains are, rather than just an average number that may mask wide variations

All the documents Transport Focus has published in this area are available through the links below.

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