Welsh Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from Passenger Focus

1. Introduction

1.1 Passenger Focus is the statutory watchdog for rail passengers in Great Britain; and for bus, tram and coach passengers in England (outside London).

1.2 This submission focuses on the provision of rail travel.

2. The Importance of Cross-border Rail Travel to Wales

2.1 The latest figures from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) highlight the importance of cross-border journeys to Welsh rail users with just under one-third (31.5%) of the 27 million annual journeys that start and/or finish in Wales crossing the Wales-England border.

2.2 Of this one-third (8.59 million journeys), the majority are going to/coming from the South West and London.

Source: National Rail Trends. 2010–11. Office of Rail Regulation

2.2 Analysis by district/unitary authority shows that the majority of journeys into England start or finish in the Cardiff/Swansea/Newport corridor.

WALES—PASSENGER JOURNEYS TO/FROM OTHER REGIONS

Journeys (thousands) 2010–11 by District/Unitary Authority

 

To/From

2010–11

2010–11

CARDIFF—CAERDYDD

2,965

34.5%

NEWPORT—CASNEWYDD

900

10.5%

SWANSEA—ABERTAWE

554

6.5%

WREXHAM—WRECSAM

475

5.5%

GWYNEDD—GWYNEDD

452

5.3%

CONWY—CONWY

437

5.1%

DENBIGHSHIRE—SIR DDINBYCH

419

4.9%

MONMOUTHSHIRE—SIR FYNWY

373

4.3%

FLINTSHIRE—SIR Y FFLINT

355

4.1%

POWYS—POWYS

257

3.0%

BRIDGEND—PEN-Y-BONT AR OGWR

205

2.4%

CEREDIGION—SIR CEREDIGION

202

2.4%

NEATH PORT TALBOT—CASTELL-NEDD PORT TALBOT

191

2.2%

ISLE OF ANGLESEY—SIR YNYS MON

183

2.1%

CARMARTHENSHIRE—SIR GAERFYRDDIN

164

1.9%

PEMBROKESHIRE—SIR BENFRO

122

1.4%

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN—BRO MORGANNWG

107

1.2%

RHONDDA CYNON TAFF—RHONDDA CYNON TAF

94

1.1%

TORFAEN—TOR-FAEN

61

0.7%

CAERPHILLY—CAERFFILI

48

0.6%

MERTHYR TYDFIL—MERTHYR TUDFUL

18

0.2%

BLAENAU GWENT

6

0.1%

Wales Total

8,590

100%

Source: National Rail Trends. 2010–11. Office of Rail Regulation

2.3 These figures highlight the fact that, for Welsh rail passengers, important parts of the network are located outside of Wales. Travel to these destinations is often on services provided by English-based train operating companies (TOCs), especially (based on the evidence above) of First Great Western.

3. Passenger Satisfaction with Cross-border Rail TravelThe National Passenger Survey (NPS)

3.1 The National Passenger Survey (NPS) measures passengers’ satisfaction with a range of train- and station-based aspects of their journey. Results from the NPS are usually reported in terms of the respective train companies, but by using the information gathered on departure and destination stations it is also possible to use the data to examine satisfaction with cross-border travel between Wales and England.

3.2 The following table provides a summary of the results from the latest NPS (Autumn 2011) for journeys that were wholly within Wales and those that involved travel between Wales and England. As much of the cross-border travel is likely to have been long distance travel, such as journeys to London, the table also presents the results of the “Long Distance” group of train companies—this comparison is important as long distance travel is likely to be on more comfortable trains and between larger, better resourced stations than is often the case on commuter and regional services within Wales.

% Satisfied NPS Autumn 2011

Within
Wales

Wales–
England

Long
Distance
Sector

Overall satisfaction

82

85

86

Station Facilities

Overall satisfaction with the station

65

80

81

Ticket buying facilities

79

81

84

Provision of information about train times/platforms

75

84

86

The upkeep/repair of the station buildings/platforms

58

67

73

Cleanliness

56

69

77

The facilities and services

34

56

65

The attitudes and helpfulness of the staff

71

75

77

Connections with other forms of public transport

54

76

74

Facilities for car parking

55

63

62

Overall environment

56

68

74

Your personal security whilst using

63

73

74

The availability of staff

54

66

66

How request to station staff was handled **

87

85

87

Train Facilities

The frequency of the trains on that route

77

85

84

Punctuality/reliability (ie the train arriving/departing on time)

87

86

83

The length of time the journey was scheduled to take (speed)

85

84

88

Connections with other train services

76

81

79

The value for money for the price of your ticket

56

58

56

Upkeep and repair of the train

73

77

84

The provision of information during the journey

56

76

76

The helpfulness and attitude of staff on train

75

79

79

The space for luggage

56

64

53

The toilet facilities

41

47

52

Sufficient room for all passengers to sit/stand

69

74

70

The comfort of the seating area

74

75

79

The ease of being able to get on and off

83

76

82

Your personal security on board

79

82

84

The cleanliness of the inside

70

78

82

The cleanliness of the outside

68

73

79

The availability of staff

64

70

66

How well train company deals with delays

35

40

50

3.3 Analysis of the NPS scores shows that passenger satisfaction is higher for cross-border services than for services within Wales but is still, in general, slightly behind the average for the long-distance sector.

4. Improving Cross-border Services

As much of cross-border rail travel between Wales and England involves relatively long journeys many of the issues needed to improve the experience of Welsh passengers using these services are shared by users of Long Distance services more generally. From a Welsh, cross-border perspective, the following are of particular interest:

4.1 Fares

4.1.1Passenger Focus’ research1 shows that passengers rate value for money as their top priority for improvement on the railway, and our National Passenger Survey shows that only 58% of cross-border passengers are satisfied that they get value for their money.

4.1.2Our submission2 on the recent consultation for the next Great Western franchise identified a number of recommendations:

Introduce an element of flexibility in Advance Fares

Allow Advance tickets to be “upgraded” if a booked train is missed. Passengers should be able to pay the difference between what they have already paid and the price of the ticket valid at the time, subject to a reasonable administration fee. This would address the sense of grievance that many passengers feel when they are confronted with paying the full cost of the most expensive walk-up fare when they miss their train. Such flexibility could indeed be offered as a premium to the basic ticket

Improve access to Advance Fares

Ideally, passengers should be able to purchase Advance tickets at any time before a service departs. However, we recognise that this is not achievable with the rail industry’s current systems. So in the interim we would like to see the cut-off time for the purchase of Advance tickets moved from 1800 to no earlier than 2359 on the eve of travel. This would at least allow people to get home from work and plan their affairs for the following day without automatically paying higher prices. Efforts must also be made to increase Ticket on Departure (TOD) schemes and e-ticketing as there are parts of the country where access to Advance tickets is dependent on delivery by post or involves a lengthy round trip to a station with reservation facilities.

Give passengers the information on which to make an informed purchase

Ticket restrictions and validities must be supplied at the point of purchase. Passenger Focus’s recent research on ticket-vending machines showed that some passengers struggle to buy a ticket from a machine as they were not provided with sufficiently precise or enough information to ensure they got the correct ticket at the right price. This potentially results in passengers buying the more expensive ticket, utilising a “better safe than sorry” mentality, or taking a chance on the cheaper ticket and risking a penalty or excess fare. We believe that validities should also be printed on the ticket itself (or at least be supplied with the ticket) to provide continuing reassurance to passengers.

4.2 Car parking

4.2.1As Long Distance rail travel is from main-line stations and often involves an early departure and/or a late return, good car parking facilities are even more important than for local journeys.

4.2.1Passenger Focus research3 has found that passengers travelling to a railway station from rural, semi-rural and edge of town locations will generally drive and park at the station. If they struggle to find a car parking space at their station they may turn their backs on the railway and drive exclusively. The NPS results show that satisfaction with car parking facilities for cross-border travel is on a par with the sector average but, at only 63%, still leaves plenty of room for improvement.

4.3 Connections with other train services

4.3.1The NPS results show that satisfaction with cross-border services is slightly higher than that of comparable services for connections with other train services.This is important to maintain as good connections are an important consideration when deciding whether to drive or use rail.

4.4 Delivery of improvements

4.4.1In July 2012 The High Level Output Specification for England and Wales (HLOS) and the Statement of Funds Available (SoFA) will be issued by the Secretary of State for Transport. This will set out the strategic outputs that Government wants the railway to deliver and the level of public funding they are prepared to make available. The targets and aspirations set within this will go a long way to determining the strategic delivery of rail services. While not specific to cross-border services they will naturally have an impact—for example, decisions on further electrification schemes or major infrastructure upgrades.

4.4.2Passenger Focus’s input4 into this process emphasised five key areas:

value for money;

punctuality;

frequency;

crowding; and

information during disruption.

4.4.3In addition, DfT’s existing franchise programme will see new franchises being let for both the West Coast and Great Western franchises—both of which will again have a bearing on the provision of cross-border services. We have provided submissions for each of these.5 Again, the emphasis was on providing a reliable “core product”: value for money, punctuality and getting a seat.

1 Passenger priorities for improvements in rail services. Passenger Focus.

2 The Great Western Franchise: A consultation response from Passenger Focus. April 2012

3 Getting to the station. March 2007

4 Passenger Focus response to the rail industry’s Initial Industry Plan for England and Wales in Control Period 5, 2014–19 November 2011

5 Both available on our website. www.passengerfocus.org.uk

Prepared 5th March 2013