ONLY 40 per cent of South West Trains (SWT) passengers consider they are getting value for money, according to independent watchdog Transport Focus.
The problems faced by some of Britain’s rail commuters are holding back a bigger recovery in overall passenger satisfaction, the watchdog warned, following the latest National Rail findings that surveyed more than 28,000 passengers.
The survey also revealed 37 per cent of SWT passengers think the fares are too high. A price rise of 1.1 per cent in January saw a standard annual season ticket from Liphook to Waterloo costing around £4,000.
The number of SWT passengers feeling they are getting a raw deal price wise was also higher than users of other London and South East rail networks, although the overall score was still less than half, with only 43 per cent satisfied they were getting value for money.
Publication of the survey coincided with news that Stagecoach, which owns SWT, will compete with FirstGroup to take over the new franchise from June 2017. SWT, the country’s most profitable train operator with an income of £1bn a year, has held the franchise since privatisation 20 years ago. FirstGroup currently operates the Great Western Railway and First TransPennine Express networks.
The survey showed a slight increase in overall rail passenger satisfaction to 83 per cent across the country, with SWT standing at 81 per cent.
The overall scores for commuter satisfaction was 76 per cent, compared to 85 per cent for business and 90 per cent for leisure travellers. The watchdog has called for quick implementation of the Government’s promise to cut the threshold for Delay Repay down to 15 minutes from the current 30 minutes, because that will include shorter, but more regular delays.
It also suggested implementing a fares reduction for badly affected passengers.
SWT scored slightly higher than other London and South East train operators on how well it dealt with delays. Forty per cent were satisfied with SWT’s approach, compared to an overall 35 per cent across the region.
A 12-week public consultation by Department for Transport to help inform the new franchise specification closed earlier this month.
In its response, Haslemere Rail Users’ Group (HRUG) flagged up a 98 per cent dissatisfaction rate in 2010, specifically for SWT’s Waterloo to Portsmouth line.
HRUG’s main current complaints included regular delays of more than five minutes “many without reason provided” and sudden changes in rolling stock, meaning longer distance Haslemere passengers travelling in more cramped carriages used on short suburban routes.
HRUG secretary Martin Odell wrote: “Based on our experience of the current operator, proper safeguards must be put in place to avoid a repeat of these failings. During the period of the franchise, Stagecoach have made a very handsome profit and the Treasury have taken their fair share.
“They have therefore benefited well from the experience, at the expense of fare paying passengers. In our view, this is unacceptable and not within the spirit of privatisation, which is supposed to have provided commercial competition and benefits for the travelling public. This is an area you need to address as a high priority.”
HRUG called for swift penalties to be imposed on the 2017 franchise holder for substandard service, the reinstatement of long-distance rolling stock with more comfortable seating, and the appointment of a Rail Passengers Ombudsman with real powers.
Responding to the Transport Focus survey, SWT customer service director Arthur Pretorius said: “It’s good news that customer satisfaction with our services has increased.
“This is a credit to our employees who work hard to deliver the best service for our customers.
“We are continuing to make major investment to improve our stations and trains, and these results are a clear sign that this is starting to have a real impact on our customers’ journeys.
“Over the next year, we will be investing around £50m in a range of customer benefits, with the introduction of new customer ambassadors to deliver a more personalised service, the roll-out of 170 new easy-to-use ticket machines, extra car parking spaces at key stations and new technology to make it easier for customers to travel with us.
“In partnership with Network Rail, SWT will also be delivering some of the biggest improvements on the network in decades which will boost peak-time capacity by 30 per cent by May 2018. The plans include a £210m fleet of new trains to be introduced from 2017 and major improvements to London Waterloo, Europe’s busiest station.”