The results of the autumn 2012 wave of the rail National Passenger Survey are out. More than 30,000 passengers have voiced their view of their rail journeys. This helps to drive change on the railways. It is clear that major improvements are linked to where passengers have spoken and the industry has acted. So, it is critical that industry and government continue listening to what passengers are saying, and basing investment and operational decisions around this.
An average 85 per cent rail satisfaction shows things are beginning to move in the right direction. However, if you stood on the train from Reading to Paddington this morning or could not even board a train to get into Manchester it may not feel like that. The average figures mask big variations in both directions. Satisfaction on individual routes still varies widely, from 76 to 97 per cent. Satisfaction with value for money nudged up by one per cent (to 47 per cent), with individual operators varying between 29 and 75 per cent. Value-for-money scores by ticket type are even more stark. Autumn wave scores tend to be higher than the spring wave, as the effects of fare changes fade in the memory.
Many train companies and Network Rail areas have made noticeable improvements. East Coast is now level-pegging with Virgin at 92 per cent overall satisfaction. Greater Anglia, still with a long way to go, has improved markedly and is now much more firmly placed among its peers. Chiltern, moving many commuters every day, reaches 91 per cent. First Hull Trains has bounced back to a healthy 95 per cent and Grand Central leads the whole pack with 96 per cent overall satisfaction. Investment in stations is also paying off. King’s Cross shows a 32 per cent increase in satisfaction, Waterloo 11 per cent and Blackfriars is also improving, despite continuing building work.
Meanwhile, post Brown review, the debates about structure roll on. Good NPS results are being delivered by open-access operators, concessions, long franchises, short franchises and government-owned franchises. So, what conclusions can be drawn? None really other than the quality of delivery is helped by a partnership between the franchisor and franchisee and then by the relationship with Network Rail as well.
Devolution is all the rage. Brown gave it a hefty push and everyone seems to agree that authorities closer to the passengers have a better chance of getting investment output and contract terms right. However, it has to be done right. The National Rail network has to remain just that – national. Balkanising the railway will not serve passengers in the long run. There will still be difficult trade-offs to be made about the allocation of capacity. ORR will continue to have an overseeing role and we will still represent all passengers’ interests. But as the ratio of passenger funding of the railway compared to government investment now stands at about £2 to £1 this should be becoming a more consumer-focused industry. So passengers should have a greater say in what is being bought on their behalf.