ScotRail passenger satisfaction plunges to 16-year low

Passenger satisfaction with ScotRail is at its lowest for 16 years, the latest official watchdog survey showed today.

Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 4:31 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 4:56 pm
The survey showed a significant decline in passengers' satisfaction with ScotRail. Picture: @Gazzadaz/Twitter

The train operator's rating plunged by six percentage points from 85 to 79 per cent last autumn compared to the previous year, the National Rail Passenger Survey by Transport Focus revealed.

The score is the second lowest for ScotRail since the current survey was launched 20 years ago.

Satisfaction was lowest among commuters, only 66 per cent of whom were happy with the service, compared to 91 per cent of leisure travellers.

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In addition, only 74 per cent of passengers on short-distance "urban" lines, such as many commuter routes into Edinburgh, were satisfied.

ScotRail is required under its franchise with the Scottish Government to achieve a rating of at least 88.5 per cent.

The results come days after a smaller poll by consumer body Which? reported passenger satisfaction also down by six points to 45 per cent.

Transport Focus said: "Following a year of delays, cancellations and the late delivery of new trains, passengers are less happy than at any time since 2002."

ScotRail scored worse than most cross-Border operators, albeit they operate fewer services.

Satisfaction with Virgin Trains was 90 per cent), LNER 87 per cent, CrossCountry 81 per cent, although TransPennine Express was even lower than ScotRail's at 73 per cent.

In the latest survey, among 1,300 passengers, the biggest fall was in how useful passengers found information about delays, down 16 points to 42 per cent.

How well ScotRail dealt with delays - traditionally the firm's Achilles heel in the poll - was down by 12 points to 39 per cent, with only 24 per cent of commuters happy.

Passengers were also increasingly unhappy with connections with other trains - down 11 points to 72 per cent.

Their satisfaction with punctuality and reliability also fell by ten points to 72 per cent, and was only 66 per cent on most commuter lines into Edinburgh but 80 per cent on inter-city routes.

Satisfaction with ticket price value for money fell eight points to 51 per cent, but it was just 43 per cent on most commuter lines into Edinburgh and 29 per cent among commuters.

However, there were improvements in some areas, with cycle parking up 14 points to 69 per cent.

Satisfaction with levels of crowding on trains improved by three points to 74 per cent, but it was 62 per cent on most commuter lines into Edinburgh and 57 per cent among of commuters.

There are also signs ScotRail's performance is improving with no planned cancellations today for the fifth day in a row.

Transport Focus director David Sidebottom said: “ScotRail and Network Rail need to keep to their basic promises and deliver a relentless focus on day-to-day performance as well as better information during disruption.

"A better value for money and more reliable railway must arrive soon for passengers.

"While services have fallen well short of what passengers deserve, ScotRail’s extra compensation is welcome and will go some way to rebuild passenger trust.”

He said Transport Focus would "continue to monitor closely whether the introduction of the new timetable delivers additional capacity, more frequent trains and better journey times for passengers - and whether the remedial notice issued to ScotRail by Transport Scotland will result in a plan that delivers improved punctuality and reliability".

Scottish Labour transport spokesman Colin Smyth said: “It is little surprise that passenger satisfaction with ScotRail has plummeted after months of delays, cancellations and overcrowding on our trains.

“In return for this shoddy service, hard-pressed commuters are being forced to fork out even more to travel on our trains with a rip-off fare rise given the green light by the SNP government,who ignored calls for a fare freeze in the Budget.

“SNP transport secretary Michael Matheson has allowed [ScotRail operator] Abellio to miss target after target and then teamed up with the Tories to block Labour’s plans to bring our railways into public ownership.

“The SNP should use the current Budget process to deliver a fare cut for passengers and back Labour’s call for public ownership of our railways so we have a transport system that works for the many.”

Scottish Greens transport spokesman John Finnie said: “ScotRail services have gone from bad to worse in recent months, with delays and cancellations becoming commonplace.

"These figures, the worst customer satisfaction stats in many years, should come as a wake-up call to the transport secretary, who must now strip Abellio of the franchise and put in place a public operator at the earliest opportunity.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency said: "ScotRail’s performance hasn’t been good enough – that’s undeniable and these results quite clearly underline the need for sustainable improvements.

"We have taken the serious contractual step of issuing a remedial plan notice for the high level of cancellations and performance which are inextricably linked to passengers’ views.

"We are already taking further action to ensure ScotRail implement measures to swiftly address these latest unacceptable results."

ScotRail said the survey - made between September and November - had coincided with "challenging" autumn weather.

It also said its 79 per cent rating was the same as the average among other train operators in the survey.

However, the poll was completed before huge disruption from ScotRail cancellations due to the late delivery of new trains, which could have made its results even worse.

In an effort to highlight positive findings from the survey, ScotRail said satisfaction levels among leisure travellers, its "largest customer group", were at its highest level since spring 2016 at 91 per cent.

It also pointed to satisfaction with ticket-buying facilities increasing by five points, which followed the installation of new ticket machines and smartcard technology.

ScotRail suggested major improvements to cope with record and rising passenger numbers, such as at Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh Waverley, may have influenced the results.

Phil Campbell, ScotRail's head of customer operations, said: “While it’s good news that four out of five of our customers are satisfied with ScotRail, we know there is much more to do given the challenges we have faced in recent months.

“Everyone at ScotRail is working flat out to deliver the improved service our customers expect and deserve.”

A spokesperson for Virgin Trains,.whose score was down one point, said: “We have consistently outperformed the long-distance franchised sector for customer satisfaction and this year is no exception with 90 per cent of customers saying they liked our service, seven percentage points above the sector average.

"We’ll continue to focus on delivering great customer service and to introduce industry leading innovations such as digital ticketing and scrapping peak restrictions on Fridays.”

David Horne, managing director of LNER, which took over Scotland-London trains on the east coast main line from Virgin Trains East Coast, said: “It has been an incredibly busy time since LNER launched back in June.

"We have worked hard to provide a seamless transition for our customers and have since focused on identifying how we can start to further improve the experience of people travelling with us.

A big part of this has been about continuing to get the basics right so we’re really pleased to see that our overall satisfaction score has remained above the average for our sector."