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Railways: Passenger Satisfaction

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 14 January 2010


Asked By

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will incorporate further measurements of passenger satisfaction, beyond those in the public performance measure, into future bidding processes for railway franchises.

My Lords, the bidding process for the most recent rail franchise awarded by the Government, to Govia for Southern railway, included an evaluation not only of punctuality and reliability but passenger satisfaction in respect of trains, stations and passenger information. Those customer satisfaction improvements are part of the franchise and financial penalties apply if they are not met. I intend to include similar requirements in future franchise bids and contracts.

Is the Minister aware that Passenger Focus is undertaking work on the use of sampling passenger experience where the station, the car park, the cleanliness of the train, luggage space, information and many other factors are taken into account in a statistically rigorous manner? That is much better than the crude measure of public performance, which can be easily abused both by operators and by Network Rail.

I am well aware of the points that the noble Lord makes. Indeed, it was thanks to research done by Passenger Focus that the passenger satisfaction indices that I mentioned in my initial Answer were included in the Southern franchise. Passenger Focus is doing similar work for us in respect of forthcoming rail franchises, and I intend to see that a wider range of passenger satisfaction targets are included in those franchises.

Does the Minister agree that the punctuality figures for our railway system in 2009 were probably the best in railway history? Would he also like to pay tribute to railwaymen and women for that excellent performance over the past year?

My noble friend is absolutely right. The punctuality figure now stands at more than 90 per cent in terms of the public performance measure, which is the best it has been since we started collecting these statistics. However, of course, “no complacency” are my middle names and I certainly do not regard that as high enough. We want to see it continuing to rise month by month and year by year. I point out that the public performance measure is for trains to be regarded as punctual if, in respect of long-distance trains they arrive within 10 minutes of their scheduled time and in respect of commuter trains they arrive within five minutes of their scheduled time. I do not think that most passengers regard that as absolutely punctual and we might have a more exacting target in the future.

My Lords, I speak from these Benches not as Leader of the Liberal Democrats but as one of the poor bloody infantry who has to use the Bedford to Brighton line to commute into London. This morning there was a fire on the line that stopped the cross-London service. Last night, inclement weather stopped the cross-London service. Previously we have had technical breakdowns, industrial disputes and a whole list of excuses from First Capital Connect. Is there not an urgent need to see whether this franchise is being served properly? I can assure the noble Lord that if he asked the commuters on that line, they would tell him very clearly, “Come back Thameslink, all is forgiven”.

My Lords, I am only too well aware of the substandard service that has been offered by First Capital Connect in recent months. This is a matter of acute concern to me and my department. However, I am the bearer of some modest glad tidings to the noble Lord. The drivers’ ballot on the pay settlement was held yesterday, which led to a decision to accept the pay settlement. The intention is that a full, normal service will be offered from Monday. I stress that that is the intention of the company. Of course, in the current weather conditions, other factors may come into play. However, the company is well aware of the concerns of the noble Lord and of those many others who have been severely inconvenienced in using this service in recent months, and is fully intent on improving that service rapidly.

My Lords, when we previously discussed the problems of Eurostar, we talked about communications. Will there be included in the new franchises a requirement that there should be proper communications with passengers at all times?

The noble Baroness makes a very important point. Passenger information matters a great deal to passengers. We have seen the importance of that in recent days as services have had to be changed due to weather conditions. In the Southern railway franchise that I mentioned earlier, there is a requirement for improvements in passenger information, and that the passengers themselves should rate those improvements as satisfactory. I intend to incorporate similar requirements in future rail franchises.