Supplementary memorandum by the Rail Passengers
Council (FOR 72A)
THE FUTURE OF THE RAILWAY
Further to the oral evidence given to the Select
Committee on 5 November 2003, the Rail Passengers Council would
like to submit this supplementary memorandum in order to clarify
and expand on some of the answers given.
Q1347 Chairman: Are you quite happy with the present
arrangements for passengers to make their views heard?
Q1348 Chairman: Is that true of all of your regions?
Q1349 Chairman: Do we depend on how good you are
at gathering the information from passenger councils round the
The RPC network is unique in Europe in that
it is a statutory body with a duty to investigate issues concerning
the passenger interest on the passenger railway and the right
to make recommendations for change.
The Rail Passengers Council and Committee network
has worked hard to develop relationships with those it seeks to
influence on behalf of passengers. This is true at both a national
and regional level. As stated in our oral evidence, nationally
the Rail Passengers Council has access to ministers and the chief
Executives and Chairmen of national industry bodies. However,
all the Rail Passengers Committees have access to their local
decision-makers. It is a licence condition for Train Operating
companies and Network Rail that senior level representatives meet
with the Rail Passengers Committees twice a year. In reality,
in most cases, there is an ongoing dialogue and the parties meet
more often. Individual Rail Passenger Committees have developed
relationships with local authorities and input into Regional Transport
strategies and Local Transport Plans. Committees which have devolved
government have good relationships with those assemblies, while
others are developing relationships with the fledgling English
Across the RPC network, the views of the committees
and council are sought by transport policy makers, and those that
seek to influence or understand transport policy from a user perspective,
often in advance of other parties. The network as a whole has
good relationships with BTP and has representatives on a number
of safety related bodies. There is unprecedented opportunity for
passengers concerns to be expressed, through the RPC network,
in places that can make a difference.
Q1349 Chairman: Do we depend on how good you are
at gathering the information from passenger councils round the
Q1350 Mr Donohoe: How close are you to the passengers
The primary focus of the Rail Passenger Committees
is their regional remit. However, each Committee Chairman is a
member of the national Rail Passengers Council and brings his
or her regional experience to the council. The structure also
allows committees to learn from experiences in other parts of
the country, and to share examples of good or bad practice to
aid local lobbying.
The Committees interface with passengers in
a number of ways. Day-to-day contact is through the postbag, telephone
calls and emails to the committees from passengers who have usually
had negative experiences on the railway and wish to make a complaint.
The RPC network has an arrangement with the industry in that we
act mainly as an appeals body, giving the operators the opportunity
to handle first time complaints themselves. As such we are aware
that the number of complaints we receive is the tip of the iceberg,
and that we generally deal with passengers who have not been happy
with the response from operators to their issues. However, we
record all the issues brought to our attention, and committees
escalate to the Council any issue that may have a national implication.
Committees increasingly conduct passenger and
stakeholder surveys, including the views from schools and hospitals,
etc. Nationally, larger-scale, targeted passenger research has
been conducted to probe attitudes and understanding of specific
The RPC has worked with other bodies in steering
larger research projects and has shared results with industry
and government departments and agencies, as well as making any
research we own available on our website. Most recently we published
research into passengers attitudes towards engineering works,
which was led by the RPC and supported by Network Rail, RSSB and
ATOC and is being used to inform current possessions strategy.
That involved a sample of 3,300 passengers across age ranges and
commuter, business and leisure market segments. Focus groups further
probed the issues raised. Previous joint work has looked at attitudes
towards compensation arrangements and perceptions of value for
money. We are currently working with ATOC and Network Rail Major
Stations to conduct passenger research to help identify and promote
good practice in information provision, and we are on the DfT
ASPEX steering group looking at public perceptions of rail.
Q1352 Mr Donohoe: If you were to be proactive
would you not have your complaint telephone number listed in every
station, perhaps even on the ticket because the public do not
know where to complain? Is that not the fact of the matter?
Q1353 Chairman: They are not very clearly displayed,
are they? I do not dispute it but you have to really look. It
is like, where is the nearest lift on the station. There are certain
secrets the rail industry likes to keep to itself, you are one
The RPC has conducted a benchmarking exercise
to understand passenger awareness of the RPC network. We are aware
that this is low and we are working on improving this. Pilot profile
raising campaigns in two committee areas showed that it was fairly
easy to raise awareness of the RPC. However, before this is rolled
out nationally, we have to ensure that we have the resource and
infrastructure to deal with the increased demand for our services.
We have requested funding from the SRA to undertake this work.
As part of this work we intend to introduce single points of contact
through a number of communication channelsthere are currently
nine points of contact for each channel. This will include one
local rate 0845 number, a single PO Box address and a common e-mail
address for the whole RPC Network. This will also complement the
website we introduced last year. All these contact details will
be prominently advertised at stations and on trains and other
activities and marketing will actively promote them to passengers.
An upgraded telephony infrastructure and an enhanced contact management
system will provide better customer care for those who contact
us. We also intend to introduce a central complaints handling
service for committees to ensure consistency and to enable us
to cope better with fluctuations in demand regionally. The present
arrangement is such that passengers are asked to contact individual
committees depending on the journey they have experienced, and
our present telephony system makes calls transferred between committees
difficult. Each committee currently handles regional complaints
with a fixed number of staff and this makes handling peaks of
demand difficult and this impacts upon the ability of the committees
to undertake the other areas of their work.
Q1372 Tom Brake: Has your organisation looked
at rural services in a particular area and come to any conclusions
as to whether the level of investment and the environmental impact
of an under used rural service justifies the environmental price?
Would it not be better to have guided buses using the railway
Q1373 Chairman: What about bus substitutes, do
you accept that as an alternative?
The important function of rural rail is in providing
an alternative choice to the car. This has implications for social
exclusion as well as the environment and the rural economy; 28%
of households nationally do not have access to a private car,
and the old and the young are often unable to drive themselves.
It has been shown that where the Beeching closures took place,
car dependence in those areas grew (M. Hillman & A. Whalley,
The Social Consequences of Rail Closures, PSI, 1980), particularly
as bus replacement services proved unpopular and were then themselves
Under most current franchises, Public Service
Requirements (PSR) specify the minimum level of service required
on certain routes, if these routes were not considered to be commercially
attractive. The PSR was to be "based on" the BR timetable
at the time of privatisation. The definition of PSR was revised
in 1997 and, whilst still "based on" the BR timetable,
specified that the PSR would protect those services which were
non-commercially viable, were socially necessary but which did
not have very low usage. There should not be, therefore, many
two person trains running on the rural network as most of these
did not remain in the definition of the PSR. In many cases, any
services above the PSR on the financially strapped rural railway
were stripped out, leaving, in some cases, an infrequent service
that does not provide a viable alternative to the car. In many
cases it is a chicken and egg situation, "show us the demand
and we'll put on the service" vs "there is no demand
because there is no service".
Metropolitan areas well served by public transport,
like London, hardly noticed the effects of the fuel protests as
readily as car-dependent rural areas. London, incidentally has
the lowest car ownership rate in the country. However, the lack
of public transport infrastructure brought some parts of the country,
for example Wales and the West Country, to a near standstill.
Many rural areas have higher petrol prices than metropolitan areas,
and many of them have EU objective one funding status owing to
their relative lack of wealth. Yet access to jobs, goods and services
is dependent on access to a car or an infrequent public transport
The recent foot and mouth epidemic demonstrated
that tourism is of a far higher value to the rural economy than
agriculture. However in peak holiday season road congestion is
a major problem in popular tourist destinations such as the Lake
District, or Devon and Cornwall. Rail plays a number of important
roles in this, such as by bringing visitors to the area in a manner
which does not have the adverse impact on the natural environment
that car-borne tourism does. Rural lines enable tourists to access
more remote areas. Overseas tourists would not travel as far as
they do at present, and may not visit outlying areas, such as
the Highlands. Much of this tourism is small scale and low key
but collectively brings in significant amounts of additional income
into rural economies that increasingly cannot survive on traditional
One of Visit Scotland's corporate objectives
is to increase the spread of tourism expenditure. This can be
justified on both economic and social grounds. The economic case
is founded on the relative under-utilisation of capital in the
more remote areas ie it may be cheaper to persuade tourists to
go to under-utilised hotels in Deeside than to build expensive
new hotels in Edinburgh with the associated congestion costs.
There is also a powerful social argument in as much as further
depopulation of rural Scotland is undesirable and tourism is the
most likely source of commercially viable jobs in such areas.
Community Rail Partnerships can bring local authorities, bus and
rail service providers, National Parks and the Countryside agency
together to promote the use of branch lines, connections and the
destinations and local economies they serve. The Devon and Cornwall
Rail Partnership for example promotes car-free days out.
The fear in rural areas is that if the contracted
rail service is removed and replaced by a non-regulated bus service,
there will be no public transport provision at all. The railway
is currently the main public transport service that is contracted
in these areas. Rural areas do not have the passenger base to
make frequent public transport services commercially viable year
round, and therefore are dependent on public subsidy. Whereas
the RPC Network does not advocate rail being the best solution
to every situation, we do advocate understanding the travelling
needs of users and their likely travel habits should rail not
be an option.
Q1381 Ian Lucas: Was one of those issues why we
have some of the highest rail fares in Europe or are passengers
content with that situation?
Q1383 Ian Lucas: Is that not an issue you should
be making, your voice should be conveying that to the SRA to do
something about it? What did you say about that?
Q1384 Ian Lucas: What was the satisfactory response
you got when you raised these points?
The RPC network put together a comprehensive
response to the SRA's consultation on fares policy in October
2002. In addition to seeking the views of our members, we sought
the views of 300 rail user groups and commissioned research involving
passenger focus groups and analysis of demand elasticities should
regulation be extended. The response is available on our website,
or hard copies can be provided on demand. The RPC did further
work in April this year with Railfuture, to consider a commercial
case for a national off-peak railcard. In the run-up to the announcement
of the new fares policy, the RPC publicly reiterated its main
points in the press that: fares should not rise above inflation
while performance remains poor; that operators should ensure they
collect all the revenue that is owing to them; that, while incentivising
off-peak travel through lower fares was to be encouraged, pricing
off demand at peak times was unacceptable; and that an affordable,
walk-up railway must be preserved.
The SRA's revised fares policy published in
June reflected a number of our representations. We continue to
engage with the SRA on this issue and expect to input into any
further development of Saver ticket policy or of a national railcard.