How to build trust? Make passengers feel valued

Does it really matter if bus passengers trust the industry and local authorities to provide the service they need? Transport Focus thinks it does, as trust forms the keystone of any commercial or personal relationship. Trust helps keep existing passengers happy and forms the basis for attracting new passengers.

Major changes to how bus services are provided outside London are on the horizon. The Buses Bill is the biggest potential change to the way bus services are financed, operated and structured since deregulation in the 1980s. Any changes in regulation must have passengers at their heart if trust is to be maintained or built.

Our report Bus passengers have their say: Trust, what to improve and using buses more, explores passengers' trust in and relationship with the bus industry and how to get more people choosing bus.

The research found that, to improve passengers' trust in the bus industry, bus companies need to get the basics of a bus service right and build better relationships with their passengers. It's true that passengers' most basic needs are a safe, reliable, frequent bus service that is value for money. Already, 41% of bus passengers trust their company highly – but being treated more like a valued customer would greatly increase trust.

Bus companies and local authorities need to do more than just sell tickets and provide information. Passengers are more likely to trust their bus if they feel their custom is valued.

We also looked at bus passenger priorities for improvement, how to get people choosing the bus more often and how to attract new custom. This work mirrored a similar piece we did with rail passengers.

Value for money is passengers' highest priority for improvement, followed by reliability and punctuality. Tackling anti-social behaviour was rated fifth.

Nearly a third of non-users would consider making more journeys by bus, highlighting the opportunity for further growth in the industry. Further unlocking the potential of the driver as the face of the company presents a huge opportunity for increasing passenger trust.

In addition, a clear sense of who is in charge and where complaints should be directed is needed to make passengers feel more like valued customers.

These results add to the insight provided by the latest round of the Bus Passenger Survey.
The survey looks at satisfaction with aspects including the bus stop, the outside of the bus and the bus driver as well as overall satisfaction with that journey and value for money.

Passengers on their local bus may be generally content with their service, but value for money ratings and satisfaction with punctuality vary widely across the country. More than 40,000 passengers across England and Scotland took part with 86% of all passengers stating they were satisfied with their last journey.

While many services are meeting their passengers' needs, others are less consistent on the basics like reliably running to time or value for money. Farepaying passenger satisfaction with value for money ranged from 41% to 80% (averaging 63%), a gulf of 39 percentage points between the highest and lowest area scores. Increasing challenges face bus operations in some town and city centres because of increased traffic congestion. Satisfaction with punctuality ranged from 64% to 84% (averaging 75%, down from the 2014 figure of 77%).

We discussed these findings at our recent event, Is bus the missing link in delivering a
northern powerhouse?, in Manchester. The panel comprised Giles Fearnley (First Bus), Stephen Rhodes (Transport for Greater Manchester), Julian Ridge (York City Council), Alison Pilling (Transport for the North) and our own David Sidebottom.

We debated what the industry and the Government can do to put buses at the heart of a thriving transport system in the North.

David Sidebottom and Ian Wright, Transport Focus head of insight, highlighted how operators need to get the basics of a bus service right and build better relationships with their passengers. The panel members discussed how rail may continue to be the centre of attention of plans for the northern powerhouse but it is the bus that is the real workhorse of northern transport.

The backdrop to all these debates is the continued decline in bus passenger numbers outside London. Pressure on local authority budgets will continue, meaning less support for marginal services. A more customer-centred approach could help to boost demand among both existing and new passengers and help to reverse the apparent decline of bus in the transport hierarchy.

Transport Focus research clearly shows existing passengers are relatively satisfied, but their numbers are declining. However, further government interventions may be needed to address air quality and congestion issues, while the "network effect" of improved ticketing and information, under future partnership or franchise arrangements, might all help make people choose the bus.

Reference: Transport Times, May 2016 Issue

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