Transforming Rail Travel – What Do Passengers Want?

Tucked away under Publications on the Transport Focus website published on 24th February you will find a publication unlike Transport Focus's other reports, insight, or publications. 'Transforming Rail Travel – What Do Passengers Want?' sees the organisation take a radical approach in pulling together everything it knows and has published about the subject, linked using an over-arching narrative (a detailed high-level summary) with links to original research for those who would like greater detail.

A comprehensive, precise summary

Breaking with conventions that "knowledge is power," there is a clear commitment to publish this work as "Version 1" and to publish periodic future updates in the same way. Transforming Rail Travel puts out there a comprehensive, precise summary of what rail passengers want – informed, backed by and referencing the huge body of work on which it can draw.

Great British Railways, the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail and decarbonising transport are all considered fully as a back-drop to the aim of a passenger-centred railway. The approach balances pre-COVID and pandemic learning, re-affirming what we think, know, and feel as restrictions ease. Its structure reflects the main stages involved in planning and making a journey, whilst ensuring key over-arching themes are woven in throughout.

The result is essential reading for anyone who wants a better feel for a new customer-proposition for rail and identifies the key themes and potential areas of focus for Great British Railways to consider. These include:

  • A focus on rail's core product (a punctual, reliable, affordable railway)
  • Efficient and effective delivery of the basics to the highest level
  • Building and growing passenger confidence and use
  • Flexibility, data, and information needed for a modern railway, reflecting a modern way of living, and travelling
  • Identifying and removing barriers to travel
  • Simplified, easy to understand flexible ticketing systems that work

In short, a dependable, consistent, value for money product.

The importance of engaging passengers

As Transport Focus has long advocated, accessibility is a consistent theme – too often a lower priority across rail. As Transport Focus has long said, the value of passengers having a voice, and a clear engagement strategy, underscores the importance of engaging passengers in decisions that matter to them.

Journey planning is covered extensively, with calls for greater data personalisation for passengers, robust journey planning tools and a refreshed approach to planned and unplanned disruption. Station facilities, information systems, wayfinding and accessibility are all explored in the context of an accessible railway, embracing a changing passenger mix of different journeys to different places for different reasons.

Fares and ticketing systems that offer affordable flexibility and the long overdue simplification of fare structures are articulated as part root and branch reform. Also highlighted are the need for connected thinking on how rail interchanges with bus, active travel, and other initiatives.

Passenger-centred railway

The temptation to focus on city-centre, metropolitan areas is balanced by emphasising the huge social value and key role that community rail can play in a re-imagined railway. This extends to timetable development, encouraging a process that is planned with - and not done unto - those travelling. The description of a "culture of meaningful consultation and involvement" gives a glimpse of how that might look in future.

Fair treatment of passengers, clarity, and simplicity in post-travel areas such as complaint handling and ticketless travel provide a robust framework to deal with issues in a fair, consistent and compassionate way. National approaches to compensation, lost property etc are also called for.

At 39 pages (and available in accessible format), the narrative and compendium nature of this piece more than punches above its weight, offering much more than a "high level overview". If you have a spare half hour to read it, in one report Transport Focus articulates and makes a compelling case for a better, future passenger-centred railway - giving a tantalising glimpse of what that future could look like.

Why not give it a go? – it might just be the best use of half an hour's reading that is out there!

Geoff Grant is Stakeholder Manager of Transport Focus, the independent watchdog for transport users.