Transport Focus… Looking Out For The Consumer!

I am an occasional rail traveler…so I cannot begin to understand fully the frustrations of an unreliable service.
However, I have experienced delays on the few occasions I have traveled by rail!
On one occasion, a Chiltern service ex-Maryebone was held for 15 minutes a few miles from Banbury Station because of a broken down train ahead. On another occasion the locomotive developed faults, but we were reassured by the train manager who announced “Don’t worry..but the driver is going to move forward to test the brakes..and we shall be travelling at reduced line speed!” Interestingly we were 36 minutes down at High Wycombe where we had stopped..and were also 36 minute down when we arrived at Warwick Parkway! Reduced line speed??
And more recently, we had just left Marylebone when we were halted “due to a points failure ahead”. The driver, to his credit said that he would keep us moving, even though it meant taking an ever so slight detour from the Chiltern Mainline via Aylesbury..which put us 60 minutes down.

Of course, these siuations are to be expected, to a degree..but if this is a regular occurence for you, then it might well be that the railway’s success in getting more people to use rail is also its Achilles heel…

Birmingham New Street Arrivals & Departures.

In early November (2018), I had arranged to meet Anthony Smith (Transport Focus Chief Executive) to learn about the work of Transport Focus, a government (i.e. mainly tax payers’) funded independent organization. On that day, I planned to travel from Stratford-upon-Avon to Birmingham Moor Street..but there was no parking at Stratford..so I drove on to Henley -in-Arden and was able to park (just!), but had to wait for the next train that called there, meaning I was a few minutes late for my appointment. Now I am experiencing what rail travelers must be so frustrated by.

I asked Anthony what function was served by Transport Focus.
“To make a difference. To make things better. To make the passenger experience better.Transport Focus is on the side of the user, the consumer.We produce the National Rail Passenger Survey..the world’s largest public piece of passenger research, though we have no power..But we produce lots of evidence.55,000 people take part and the results are categorized by franchise and area. This benchmarked research drives a huge amount of change – everyone wants to be seen to be improving!”

He commented that insight provided by the Survey boils down to 3 key drivers..

  • Reliability..buying a ticket is buying into the timetable.
  • A Key driver to dissatisfaction is how delays are dealt with..
  • Cleanliness – the hygiene factor..If operator doesn’t care, why should the consumer..

The Survey captures the every day passenger experience. and is used in franchise agreements,pay and investment decisions. It is The Gold standard of passenger research. Getting a seat makes an OK journey better.

How is Transport Focus Funded? £6 million per year from Dft –one million of which for the Survey is ring fenced. Transport Focus also raises £1 million by doing other work, funded by third parties, and  publishing all the ensuing reports – so all the work, all the knowledge is available to all.

Birmingham New Street(Interior View)
Birmingham New Street..Reflections


Transport Focus works with Network Rail on ensuring that the message regarding planned engineering works..and unplanned ones..gets out to the travelling public. Value for money and getting a seat are the passengers’ concerns..

Does Transport Focus meet with Resistance? Transport Focus is fairly unique..and have the evidence … so there is no need for shouting!!

A recent development is the provision of the Rail Ombudsman. This body will be involved with Dispute Resolution, and is free to the consumer. It will focus on complaints handling – was what was promised ,delivered…This will naturally force improvements.
One of the biggest constraints is lack of parking places….(as I found out on the day of this interview!!)

….and The Rail Ombudsman….we will have to wait and see how it pans out.. and how its initial decisions are received.

About: The Rail Ombudsman is an independent, not-for-profit organisation. We offer a free, expert service to help sort out unresolved customer complaints about service providers within the rail industry.

Our vision is to inspire customer confidence and to deliver our service fairly to ensure the right outcome in every case. We also support the rail industry to raise standards.

ACCESS TO A FREE, INDEPENDENT AND EXPERT SERVICE
CONFIDENCE IN A TRUSTED AND IMPARTIAL ASSESSMENT OF YOUR COMPLAINT
FAIR AND TRANSPARENT OUTCOMES AND PUBLISHED CASE STUDIES
DECISIONS WHICH ARE BINDING ON SERVICE PROVIDERS
CUSTOMERS ARE NOT BOUND BY OUR DECISIONS AND REMAIN FREE TO PURSUE COMPLAINTS THROUGH ANOTHER CHANNEL
FREE USE OF ONLINE RESOURCES INCLUDING HELPFUL GUIDES ON OUR WEBSITE

Anthony Smith also mentioned some other main developments: The Keith Williams Rail Review…this is a government review of the way railways are organized and financed.and there is an expectation that something major is going to come out of this.Some fundamental changes are inevitable,what with Timetable problems in summer..and fair rises in the New Year (3.1%).New work on how passengers view way railways are run(first did this in 2004) The Review will stay focussed on the views of the user..as the announcement from Chris Grayling showed…

Transport secretary Chris Grayling…(11/10/18)
“Keith Williams, deputy chairman of John Lewis and Partners and former chief executive of British Airways, is leading this work and I expect him to make ambitious recommendations for reform to ensure our rail network produces even greater benefits for passengers and continues to support a stronger, fairer economy. Keith Williams’s expertise in driving customer service excellence and workforce engagement will be incredibly valuable as we reform the rail industry to become more passenger-focused…

….The review will build a rigorous and comprehensive evidence base, and it will make recommendations regarding the most appropriate organisational and commercial framework for the sector that delivers our vision for a world-class railway.”

And Keith Williams has been quoted as saying that nothing is ruled in..or out..even nationalization…..

More automated delay repay….and continuing emphasis on performance is expected, moving forward.

And given the annual outpouring of anger at the fare increases, Anthony Smith commented: Transport Focus Chief executive Anthony Smith told the BBC: “We passengers are putting over £10bn a year into the railways through our fares, on top of the huge amount that the taxpayer is putting in as well.
“Surely that should translate into a better, more modern railway, with more efficiencies, which should be passed back to the passengers in terms of a fares freeze?”

We await the future with interest