Tim Bellenger, Director of Policy and Investigation at London TravelWatch asks how stations can attract passengers to a rail business
Large or small, getting stations right can make the difference between passengers willingly returning to rail and putting them off either entirely or relegating rail to an ‘only if I have to’ choice. London TravelWatch has been working with new teams at Network Rail and train operators to improve the passenger experience at key London terminal stations; Victoria, London Bridge, Charing Cross and Cannon Street over the past year or so.
This has concentrated on some very basic attributes such as toilets, staff knowledge and legibility of signage and wayfinding, often in the face of poor train service performance at the same time. However, despite this, the result has been an increase in both passenger satisfaction and performance in quality measures.
Darren Williams, Station Manager at London Victoria recently shared this experience at London TravelWatch’s ‘Interchange Matters’ seminar series and talked about the ‘one team ethic’ that now exists, with accountability in one place and passenger-focussed decision-making.
In this article, our attention turns to small stations in and around London where we would also like to see improvements for passengers. We look at some of the progress that has been made and identify areas where further improvements can be made.
Small stations are equally fundamental to London’s transport network. Passengers make almost a hundred million journeys to and from small stations in and around the capital every year and their importance will grow as the London Plan develops.
Yet these stations are more likely to be neglected than larger ones, despite their growing importance. They often receive less investment than larger stations and are not necessarily eligible for funding programmes.
The quality of the passenger experience can also vary quite significantly as small stations are not subject to a set of minimum standards. And many small stations are not currently included when passenger satisfaction surveys are carried out.
In our recent report, ‘Small stations: too big to forget’, we look at the priorities for passengers using small stations and make the case for some modest improvements, particularly to improve accessibility and information. We argue that station operators could gain quick wins and raise satisfaction levels with relatively simple improvements such as regular and frequent cleaning, providing secure cycle storage and increasing the availability of clear and consistent travel information and signage.
Improvements at small stations
There are several examples of what can be achieved when improvements are made to a small station, making it more attractive to potential passengers and increasing footfall and ultimately revenue. Many small stations have benefitted as a result of TfL’s concession model following rail devolution. London Fields is an excellent example of a station improved due to the work of a user group, having previously been a rundown, underused station that was on the verge of closure in the early 1990s.
The Cambridge Heath and London Fields Rail Users Group (CHLFRUG) began campaigning in 1996 to improve the two stations to save them from closure. ORR statistics on station usage show that London Fields had over one million entries and exits in 2015/16, meaning that it is no longer considered a small station. It is likely that this is in part due to the regeneration of the station by London Overground following the years of campaigning by CHLFRUG. Before London Overground took control of several Greater Anglia services out of Liverpool Street, Cambridge Heath Station in zone two was a dark, dirty, and dangerous station.
However, it has benefitted from London Overground rebranding and investment, and will also be getting improved CCTV and links with the British Transport Police, a station repaint and deep clean, help points, and improved Customer Information Screens.
Station usage statistics will need to be analysed to see whether the improvements have led to an increase in passenger numbers.
The wider role of small stations
Investing in small stations can also have a positive effect on the local economy and we would like to see more operators develop effective partnerships with their local communities. This means developing simplified Station Travel Plans in partnership with local authorities, stakeholders, and members of the local community and developing partnerships with local residents and organisations, and passenger groups to help improve small stations through, for example, Community Rail Partnerships, Adopt-a-Station and ‘Energy Garden’ initiatives.
In Hertfordshire, the Abbey Line Community Rail Partnership (ALCRP) has promoted and improved services on the Abbey Line from Watford to St. Albans Abbey since 2005. The ALCRP has brought together community members and stakeholders to deliver award winning station improvements, including:
- A new waiting shelter with stainless steel artwork panels at Garston Station in order to combat vandalism. Groundwork Hertfordshire delivered this project and posters made by pupils at a local school inspired the designs
- Mosaics displayed at St. Albans Abbey Station designed by local schoolchildren
- A community art project in conjunction with the Watford YMCA and artist Eleanor Shipman displaying posters at the Watford Junction Abbey Line platform approach.
Making improvements at small stations can also help tackle poverty and inequality amongst London’s workforce as well as providing employers with a wider pool of potential employees.
Poor levels of service, for example restricted evening and weekend services, low frequency peak and off-peak service levels can act as a barrier to people’s job and life prospects. This is particularly true in many parts of outer London. Of the 188 small stations we identified in our research, 81 (43 per cent) are located within zones four to six in outer London and 71 (37 per cent) are located outside zones 1 to 6.
Our 2015 research with London Councils, and Trust for London identified that an increasing number of Londoners living in poverty reside in outer London, (58 per cent in 2015 compared to 42 per cent in 2005).
So, improving service levels and providing facilities such as secure cycle storage at smaller stations could potentially help people on low incomes access jobs and services that would not otherwise be available to them.
London TravelWatch is currently reviewing the effectiveness of travel plans for stations with the Rail Delivery Group and the DfT and have also found by means of mapping cycling catchment areas that almost all of Greater London is within a 10-15 minute cycle ride of a station. This presents a significant opportunity for rail operators to grow their businesses with the right provision and appropriate marketing.
What next for small stations?
Small stations represent an important part of the transport network in and around London and with the capital’s population set to grow, demand for rail transport is likely to increase in the coming years.
Most of the improvements we identify would necessarily fall to station operators to carry out. However, the DfT and TfL can also play their part by setting minimum station standards in franchises and ensuring that standards are progressively raised and consistently collecting data on small stationsto enable satisfaction levels to be accurately measured.
We want to see improved coordination of services at small stations where more than one operator is involved, with improvements in the quality of services and facilities provided and clear, consistent standards for what passengers can expect at small stations.
We would also like qualitative passenger satisfaction measures such as the National Rail Passenger Survey to be combined with a more objective measure of station performance audits. In addition, the collection of more robust customer satisfaction survey data would allow for analysis at the station level. Key improvements that passengers would like to see made at small stations include:
- Ensuring the availability of ticketing and smart card facilities
- Providing passenger and onward travel information
- Making it easier to interchange with other services and modes
- Providing assistance and security.
Our reports ‘What do passengers want from London’s smaller rail stations?’ and ‘Interchange Matters’ are available on our website www.londontravelwatch.org.uk.
Tim Bellenger is Director of Policy and Investigation at London TravelWatch