3 Information provision and passenger
45. Inadequate provision of information was raised
by witnesses as an issue for rail, road and air travellers in
December 2010. Incorrect timetables or a lack of real time information
about services are not simply inconvenient: these problems can
generate unnecessary journeys at a time when people should stay
at home and compromise passenger welfare. In this chapter we outline
the specific difficulties which came to light because of the bad
weather in December and make recommendations aimed at putting
passengers first during times of disruption.
46. Passenger Focus, the Government funded consumer
organisation for rail and bus travel, told us that "progress
is being made in the way the rail industry handled delays"
but "a culture of looking after passengers when things go
wrong is not yet second-nature across [the] industry".
Chris Burchell, the chair of the rail industry's National Task
Force and the Managing Director of Southern trains, candidly agreed
with this analysis.
Although the National Rail Enquiries system coped well with the
high volume of hits on its website, it did not always show correct
information and tickets continued to be available for sale for
trains which did not run. In addition, Passenger Focus said "station
displays and online live departure boards did not always keep
pace with events".
The Office of Rail Regulation also referred to the "variable"
quality of information provided to passengers and problems with
the new Integrated Train Planning System (ITPS) for keeping timetabling
information up-to-date were raised by London TravelWatch and Virgin
Trains. The Secretary
of State identified "inadequate" communications with
rail passengers as one of the main points arising from the winter
47. Before January 2010 changes to timetables used
to take two days to reach customer-facing systems which meant
that during periods of weather disruption websites and telephone
enquiry lines were often unable to provide customers with accurate
information. Now, systems can be updated with changes to the next
day's timetables if those changes are notified to Network Rail
before 1pm. This
is still not sufficient to deal with late changes to timetables.
Chris Scoggins, the chief executive of National Rail Enquiries,
timetables were not correct we did have
messages displayed on our website
clearly warning people
that the timetables were incorrect. However, it was still possible
to buy tickets for trains that were not going to run".
He said work to provide more timely updates to consumer-facing
information about timetables was due to be completed in October.
48. Robin Gisby of Network Rail said the rail industry
was hoping to emulate London Underground in terms of the quality
of real time communication with passengers about services. This
was complicated by the "massively complex, fragmented and
under-invested set of information systems" inherited from
British Rail: Mr Gisby spoke of "170 separate information
systems and other operational systems, some of which are 40 or
50 years old still".
The rail industry has identified improving the dissemination of
real time information as a priority,
and the Office of Rail Regulation has published proposals to amend
the licences it grants to service and station operators and Network
Rail to clarify responsibilities for information provision.
The Secretary of State said the Quarmby review had identified
that "the system has become dependent upon a computer-driven
information supply such that the back-up systems are not used".
He was sympathetic to the suggestion that during times of disruption
information could be provided by staff in regional control centres,
over-riding automated systems.
49. In our view,
the rail industry needs to do far more to look after the interests
of passengers during periods of disruption. Culture change is
urgently required: the legacy of privatisation cannot be used
to excuse the continuing inability of train companies to provide
accurate information to passengers about delays and cancellations.
We fully support the Office of Rail Regulation's initiative to
clarify responsibilities for providing accurate information. The
licence changes proposed by the ORR should be introduced as soon
as possible and backed up by effective regulation. By next winter,
there should be clarity within the industry about who is responsible
for real time information provision and customer-focused timetable
systems should always display accurate information. Failures in
information provision should cost the firms responsible money.
50. In addition,
we are attracted by the idea of using regional control centres
to take charge of real time communications with passengers during
periods of disruption. We recommend that the Department investigate
this option with a view to assessing whether regulatory action
is required to achieve it.
51. BAA were unlucky in that the snow on 18 December
fell on what was expected to be Heathrow's busiest ever weekend.
Airlines are principally responsible under EU law for looking
after passengers when flights are severely delayed or cancelled
but it is clear that some did not discharge their responsibilities.
Nearly 10,000 passengers spent the night of 20 December in one
of the terminals at Heathrow and we received evidence describing
how difficult conditions were for the people stranded there. 
The Begg report calls on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to
investigate how the legal responsibilities on airlines to look
after passengers during periods of disruption can be enforced
and what rights and obligations are placed on an airport where
airlines fail to meet their legal responsibilities. In addition,
Begg calls on BAA, airlines and retailers to develop a sustainable
welfare plan to ensure that stranded passengers are looked after.
welfare should be at the heart of airport operations. We concur
with the recommendation of the Begg report that Heathrow should
develop a welfare plan for passengers during periods of disruption:
other airports should do the same. It is unacceptable that such
plans do not already exist. If airlines fail to meet their obligations
to accommodate stranded passengers, airports should be prepared
to step into the breach. We would support measures by which airport
operators could reclaim the costs of providing support to stranded
passengers from airlines which had not discharged their legal
responsibilities and we recommend that the CAA investigate how
this can be achieved.
53. One of the striking aspects of the December disruption
at Heathrow was that it was not reflected in the airport's performance
measures, which recorded an unexceptional month.
The Secretary of State said this would be addressed in a Bill
introducing a new economic regulatory regime for airports which
had been included in the Queen's Speech but which is now scheduled
to be introduced in the next parliamentary session. Mr Hammond
said "it is clear to me that we need greater levels of incentive,
both regulatory and economic, for airport operators to build appropriate
levels of resilience into their operations" and that this
required "the shared community" at Heathrow "to
face up to the need for higher levels of investment" in resilience.
BAA, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic all concurred that a
new economic regulatory regime was welcome although Manchester
Airports Group described change as "unnecessary".
The Secretary of State announced to us that the Airport Economic
Regulation Bill would be published in draft for scrutiny by Parliament
and the aviation sector.
December's events have highlighted
the need for the regulatory regime applying to airports to be
revamped so that it properly takes account of passenger welfare
in periods of disruption. We welcome the Government's intention
to introduce legislation and we particularly welcome the Secretary
of State's announcement that the Bill will be published in draft.
We look forward to scrutinising the draft Bill when it is published.
54. Voluntary arrangements between BAA and the airlines
using Heathrow to ration slots during recovery from disruption
were used for the first time on 19 December.
Colin Matthews told us that:
There is a good question as to whether in the regulatory
framework there should be the ability for someone to impose an
I am not saying necessarily that it
should be us or it should be the CAA, but there is a very good
argument for someone being able to design an emergency timetable
which isn't simply done because 95 airlines agree
is a good case for having something more rigorous, more planned,
whereby an emergency timetable can be imposed very, very quickly.
The Secretary of State told us that it was "essential
that there is an ability to impose restricted timetables at a
disrupted airport, particularly at Heathrow because of its lack
of spare capacity, and to enforce them to avoid the unacceptable
spectacle of thousands of passengers turning up for flights that
were not going to happen and then being held in sub-standard conditions
Stewart Wingate, the chief executive of Gatwick Airport, described
this issue as "perhaps a peculiarity to Heathrow" and
said there was "no appetite" for an emergency timetable
at his airport.
55. The report of the Begg review makes detailed
recommendations about how an emergency timetable regime could
be implemented at Heathrow.
We have not had the opportunity to scrutinise this proposal fully,
although we note that the Board of Airline Representatives is
opposed to the suggestion.
we can see the benefits to passengers of imposing an emergency
timetable at busy airports during periods of disruption, particularly
so that passengers can be sure of whether or not their flight
will take off. However, the CAA must have a role in ensuring that
decisions concerning the design and implementation of an emergency
timetable are fair and transparent and in providing airlines with
a right of appeal. Consideration must also be given to financial
compensation to airlines whose flights are grounded because an
emergency timetable has been implemented.
We intend to keep a
close eye on how this proposal develops.
56. There were a number of examples of very significant
problems on major roads in December 2010, involving hours of delay,
including the closure of the M25 at junction 3 on 30 November
and the closures of the M4 and M40 on 18 December.
When we took oral evidence these incidents were still under investigation.
The Highways Agency said it was "investigating what further
steps could be taken to help further mitigate the impact of localised
intense snowfall on people's journeys. Such measures may include
wider resource deployment prior to and during severe weather,
as well as more focused road user communications during localised
intense snowfalls where disruption to traffic is likely".
57. The AA's survey of motorists found considerable
support for a more proactive approach by the police to stopping
traffic joining blocked motorways.
The Freight Transport Association (FTA) called on the Highways
Agency to identify areas of the network where lorries are prone
to jack-knifing, one of the prime causes of motorway closures,
and supported the use of convoys of lorries, escorted by gritters
and snow ploughs, to grind salt into ice and snow.
The FTA also suggested that the Highways Agency could adopt an
alert system for predictions of ice and snow, similar to the existing
system for warning of high winds.
58. The Highways
Agency is right to look into ways of minimising the impact of
intense periods of snowfall on major roads, particularly in order
to avoid large numbers of motorists being caught up for extended
periods in queues because of road closures. We recommend that
greater use be made of roadside information displays as well as
more sophisticated in-car information systems, such as the now
ubiquitous sat-navs, to provide motorists with real time information
about road conditions and disruption.
59. We also
recommend that the Highways Agency and police forces should continue
to develop more proactive responses to dealing with blockages
in the strategic road network, including, for example, by identifying
areas which are susceptible to accidents and ensuring that traffic
officers are located there during severe weather and ensuring
that motorists are not directed on to motorways which are closed
in bad weather.
we recommend that the Government consider the FTA's suggestion
of introducing snow and ice warnings for HGVs, akin to strong
wind warnings, which could play a role in reducing the number
of HGVs which cause major delays by jack-knifing.
103 Ev w36, paragraphs 4.1 and 4.2. Back
Ev w36, paragraph 3.3.1. Back
Ev w27-29, paragraph 8 and Ev w63, paragraph 46. Back
Ev 66, paragraph 4.2.2. Back
Ev 69, paragraph 7.3.2. Back
Public letter from Bill Emery, Chief Executive, ORR, published
29 March 2011, http://www.rail-reg.gov.uk/upload/pdf/passenger_information_consultation_290311.pdf. Back
Begg Report, paragraph 59. Back
Ev 92, paragraph 3.3.1 and Ev w56, paragraph 3.6. Back
Begg Report, paragraph 100 and see Ev w70. Back
Begg Report, recommendations 13 and 14. Back
Q138 and http://www.heathrowairport.com/assets/Internet/Heathrow/Heathrow%20downloads/Static%20files/LHR_SQR_Dec10.pdf. Back
Qq 139-40, 196 and Ev w20, paragraph 5.3. Back
Q183 and Ev 87, paragraph 2.1.9. Back
Begg Report, recommendations 8 and 10. Back
'"Hands off airline timetables" says BAR UK', press
notice issued 15 March 2011. Back
Ev 57-58, paragraph 40. Back
Ev 58, paragraphs 41-44. Back
Ev w16, paragraph 4.3.5. Back
Ev w46-47, paragraphs 6-8 and 12. Back
Ev w67, paragraphs 17-18. Back