Delays and compensation: room for improvement

The UK has some of the highest railway season ticket prices in Europe. Many passengers spend up to 13% of their monthly salary just to get to work. Fares have risen three times as fast as wages over the last five years.

It is hardly surprising that, according to the latest figures from industry watchdog Transport
Focus, 48% of passengers did not feel the service they received was value for money.

Successive governments have justified the high price of tickets on the grounds that rail users should pay a significant proportion of the costs of running the railway, but it is unclear whether travellers are noticing the results of the much-vaunted rail investments.

In the coming months the Transport Select Committee will be examining passenger satisfaction in relation both to fares and other factors.

At a glance the available data shows a mixed picture. Satisfaction rates vary widely depending on the length of the journey, which aspect of the journey is being measured, and on which route. For example, overall satisfaction by train operator varied between 73% and 97%. Satisfaction with whether there is sufficient room for all passengers to sit or stand on individual routes varied between 46% and 92%. Such wide variations show that more should be done.

Transport Focus found that the single biggest factor of concern was train punctuality and reliability (36%). 23% of passengers nationally are not satisfied with the reliability of their service. The latest figures show 47 million passenger journeys were either cancelled or significantly delayed in the 12 months to March 2015.

When trains are sufficiently delayed, passengers have a right to be compensated for the inconvenience, usually if a train is delayed by 30 minutes or more. In theory this should make frequently delayed services improve their performance. Sadly, the data shows that the reality is different.

In its response to a "super-complaint" filed by Which?, the ORR reported that 80% of passengers are not aware of the compensation to which they are entitled. The regulator found that passengers had little access to information on their rights within stations, and that staff on trains were often unable to provide basic guidance on passengers' eligibility for redress.

According to Which? Only around a third of passengers remembered being informed of their rights after their last delay. Information on train operator websites relating to passengers' rights can also be unclear or difficult to navigate. The ORR found that the single biggest factor that contributed to dissatisfaction was how train companies dealt with delays (56%).

Technology will assist in providing a solution in the long term. The use of smartcard ticketing is being widely adopted, particularly within urban areas, and the pace of this trend is likely to increase. Smartcards and mobile apps should make possible the automatic payment of compensation when services are disrupted.

Some train operators have already started to use this technology for automated compensation, and more have plans in the pipeline to do so. This is progress, but the complexity of the ticketing structure on the rail network has made the introduction of smart ticketing slower than it should have been.

In the short term, there is a danger of creating a two-tier system for compensation. While technologically savvy-commuters will automatically receive their entitlements, passengers wedded to the traditional orange ticket will face the usual battle with bureaucracy.

In and around London passengers are experiencing a two-tier system on price: investigations have found that passengers are being charged up to four times the correct fare at some stations because the computers used by staff fail to show the cheapest tickets which are automatically available to Oyster card users. More work needs to be done to eliminate these discrepancies.

Improving the provision of information available to passengers is one way to increase rates of satisfaction. When inevitable disruption occurs passengers must be given access to as much information as possible, and more information should be given to passengers on what they should do.

The Government and the ORR also have a role in setting the parameters of what customers can expect, and they have the powers and influence to raise standards.

Keep an eye on the Transport Committee's website for more information on its inquiry and how you can contribute.

Reference: Transport Times, May 2016 Issue

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