– Bus Passenger Survey 2014
How devolution could effect passenger satisfaction
The Central Library in Manchester was the venue for the official launch of Passenger Focus’ Bus Passenger survey for 2014.
Politicians, press, industry heads and representatives from the organisation were tightly packed in a room to hear the results of the survey along with guest speakers and a panel discussion.
The two hour session was chaired by Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of Passenger Focus with the keynote address from Baroness Kramer. This will be the last time that Passenger Focus will meet in its current format as from 30 March, it will become Transport Focus. Although the event was to launch the survey, the prevalent theme was to explore how devolution and other changes could impact bus passenger’s satisfaction.
Each of the speakers were asked to consider; How might devolution impact on passenger’s experience? What can be done to make sure passengers are put at the heart of transport delivery and what can we all do to deliver passenger satisfaction in times of competing priorities?
Baroness Kramer’s opening remarks reiterated much of what was said at The UK Bus Summit, which Stuart Jones covered recently (B&CB 1315, 20 February)
On the subject of franchising she said that Government was not best placed to decide on what was best for local communities as they know best what is needed. ‘Devolution is not simple and straight forward and frankly, done badly is an utter disaster for everybody because when you transfer responsibility, you have to be confident that the reliability is there to take on the role and Manchester has demonstrated that.’ She went on to say that many communities, such as Sheffield were also looking at devolved power but are aware that Manchester isn’t the right model and that different solutions for different areas was a mix that she welcomed. ‘What we have to be careful of is that we don’t see the world as two alternatives, regulated services as good and commercial services as bad, which would fly in the face of everything in this survey.’ She then commented on the progress made on smart ticketing and multi operator ticketing, acknowledging that this was something TfGM were developing before her closing statement that ‘we have to put passengers first.’
Ian Wright, Head of Research at Passenger Focus then presented the highlights of the results with comment about trends and the work that had been done with operators to improve scores.
Survey results – England
The surveys were conducted between 10 September and 30 November 2014, ignoring October half term and covered 23 authority areas. These were made up of 15 local transport authorities, six former metropolitan county authority areas (PTEs) and two transport authority area groups, Tees Valley Group and West of England Partnership. Over 47,000 passengers took part, the largest survey undertaken by the organisation outside of London.
Tyne and Wear once again proved to be the top PTE area and overall satisfaction across the board remained at 88%. Free pass holders were the most satisfied group, ranging from 97-87% and commuters the lowest with 89-78% satisfaction
Area Key Findings
In the Area results for overall satisfaction, York came out on top with a score of 93% of customers questioned being either very or fairly satisfied, with 63% being very satisfied and 1% being very dissatisfied; interestingly, they were the only area to have a very dissatisfied rating in this category.
Nottingham also scored 93% with 61% very satisfied. Norfolk was just behind with 92% and 53%. Bottom of the pile was Milton Keynes with an 83% overall score and just 35% very satisfied.
When looking at value for money, only fare paying customers were surveyed. Greater Manchester led with 73%, 34% of which were very satisfied and 5% very dissatisfied. York was close behind with 71% overall but had a higher very satisfied percentage than Greater Manchester at 37%. They too had 5% of their passengers who were disgruntled. Medway were the worst performers with just 45% and only 1% difference between their very satisfied and very dissatisfied scores (18%, 17%)
Passengers aged between 35 and 59 and those not commuting were most likely to find the journey good value for money.
Nottinghamshire rated highest at 86% for punctuality, with 58% of passengers very satisfied and 3% very dissatisfied. Joint second were York and Suffolk with 84% overall and 57% and 55% very satisfied. West of England Partnership fared the worst with just 67%, 37% being very satisfied. Essex also had a 37% very satisfied score but came out higher due to having 9% of customers very dissatisfied compared with 11% from West England.
On bus journey times were up year on year with York being the best performing at 92%. 64% were very satisfied with just 1% very dissatisfied. Tyne and Wear came in second with 90%, 59% and 1%. However, Nottinghamshire, Merseyside and Norfolk all had higher very satisfied ratings than Tyne and Wear at 63%, 62% and 60%. West England Partnership were the worst performer again with 80% overall but just 41% of passengers very satisfied with journey times and 2% very dissatisfied.
The top reason for delay was congestion, with the driver being too slow as the least likely reason for extending the journey time.
Overall satisfaction figures by operator were up year on year 96-81% compared with 94-79% in 2013.
Of the five major operators surveyed, Go Ahead (Go North East) came out on top for overall satisfaction with 90%. Unlike last year, their services outside of London were represented. 48% of those questioned were very satisfied with them, although Arriva’s score was higher at 49%. National Express was a few points behind with 85% overall, 37% very satisfied and 1% very dissatisfied. First Group got the highest very dissatisfied rating of 2%.
Managing Director of Go North East, Kevin Carr said, ‘The figures are a tribute to the tremendous effort everyone at Go North East puts in to providing our customers with the best possible bus experience.’
There were 49 operators surveyed and Oxford Park and Ride got the best results for overall satisfaction with an impressive 96% of passengers being happy with the service, 56% of which were very satisfied. This was a close run category with Anglian Buses just one point behind at 95% but achieving a higher very satisfied result of 68%, as did Konectbus, who slipped in to joint third place with 94% alongside Wilts and Dorset and Stagecoach in Nottinghamshire.
There was also a battle at the bottom with Arriva Milton Keynes and Thames Travel scoring 81%. Thames’ very satisfied score was 39% and both National Express West Midlands and First West England Partnership scored lower at 37%. Arriva Milton Keynes however could only manage 31% and had 3% of passengers very dissatisfied.
In the value for money category, the satisfaction levels range for operators was down on last year at 37-75%, compared with 43-75% in 2013, however, operators within PTE areas were up from 49-75% to 60-75%. First Group was the most improved rising to 65% from 58%.
Top national operator was Stagecoach with an overall rating of 68%, 31% being very satisfied and 5% very dissatisfied. Managing Director of Stagecoach UK Bus, Robert Montgomery said, ’This is yet more independent evidence, from the customers who use buses, that we offer the best value bus travel in Britain and we have amongst the most satisfied passengers in the country.’
Arriva were bottom with 56%, 26% very satisfied. National Express and Go Ahead got lower very satisfied scores, 22% and 23% respectively, but Arriva’s very dissatisfied score of 10% made them the worst performer.
First Suffolk and Stagecoach Merseyside shared the top operator spot with 75% satisfaction and although First’s very satisfied percentage was 46% compared to 36% for Stagecoach, their very dissatisfied was also greater, 9% against 4%.
Southern Vectis had very disappointing results, only achieving 37 % overall with 29% of customers being very dissatisfied and just 16% very satisfied. Arriva Kent didn’t fare much better with scores of 38%, 16% and 21%. However, Thames Travel and First Norfolk had the lowest very satisfied results with just 15%.
Chair of Merseytravel, Cllr Liam Robinson commented, ‘I’m keener than ever to ensure we work hard with partners to improve the passenger experience and not only see a steady year-on-year increase in overall satisfaction but that we really work hard to address affordability issues and ultimately see further growth in patronage, which has seen a huge decline over the years.’
Punctuality scores were up year on year for operators 65-90% (58-87% 2013) as were those for operators within PTE areas at 69-85% (67-83% 2013), Go Ahead and Stagecoach both achieved 78% overall, which was down 2% for Stagecoach. Both had very satisfied scores of 47%, with respectively 6% and 5% very dissatisfied results. First Group came last with 73% overall, 42% of which were very satisfied and 8% very dissatisfied.
Oxford Park and Ride and Konectbus shared first place in the operator spot with a score of 90% Konectbus getting a higher very satisfied rating of 65% compared to 62% for Oxford, with 3% and 2% of passengers very dissatisfied. Thames Travel was the worst performer with 65%, 37% very satisfied and 11% very dissatisfied. First Essex got the lowest very satisfied score with 34% and Arriva Kent had 12% of passengers who were very disappointed with the service.
On bus journey times saw an improvement on last year, 76-97% from 76-91% for operators and those within PTE areas 82- 93% (81-91% 2013). The national operators all had improved results with the exception of National Express who were down from 85 to 83%.
The results from the national operator’s was very close; Stagecoach were the highest with 87% overall, 54% of which were very satisfied and 1% very dissatisfied. Go Ahead also achieved 54% very satisfied with Arriva getting the highest at 56%. National Express achieved just 42% of very satisfied customers and 2% very dissatisfied.
Top of the operators was Anglian Bus with an excellent overall score of 97%, 72% of which were very satisfied and only 1% very dissatisfied. Next were Stagecoach Tyne and Wear with 93% overall but only achieving 59% very satisfied, compared to Konectbus who were second highest in this category with 70%.
Thames Travel once again brought up the rear with 76% overall although Arriva Milton Keynes and First West England Partnership had lower very satisfied scores of 41%. Brighton and Hove, Arriva Kent and Oxford Bus Oxfordshire had the most very dissatisfied customers with 3% each.
Scotland – Area Key Findings
Scotland was included in the Bus Passenger Survey for the first time this year with the interviewing of passengers commencing on 22 September after the referendum vote. Four regions were analysed: North East, South East, Strathclyde and Tayside and Central. It is worth noting that there were no very dissatisfied ratings across the four main key area categories at all.
For overall satisfaction, South East came first with 94%, 56% of which were very satisfied. North East had the lowest score of 87% and 42%. This pattern was repeated in the value for money section; South East 78% and 43% with North East achieving just 52% and 20%. In the punctuality category, South East’s 88% with 61% very satisfied, compared with the North East’s results of 79% and 46%. Tayside and Central topped the leader board with on bus journey times, achieving an overall satisfaction score of 92% with 58% of passengers being very satisfied, Unfortunately, North East were bottom again with 84% and 46%. Once again, free pass passengers and those aged 34-59 were the most satisfied groups with commuters being the least satisfied.
Eleven operators were surveyed, with the majority being First or Stagecoach services. Top for overall satisfaction was Stagecoach Tayside and Central, with a high score of 95% overall with 60% of those being very satisfied. Stagecoach Strathclyde and Lothian Buses were just behind with 94% with First North East bringing up the rear with 86%, 39% highly satisfied.
In the value for money category, Lothian Buses lead the way with an overall rating of 83%, 47% very satisfied and only 1% very dissatisfied. In second place, some distance behind, were Stagecoach Tayside and Central, with 74%, 30% and 5%. Very dissatisfied customers featured quite highly in this section, ranging from 1% through to 15% for First South East. They weren’t bottom overall, although it was also First but their North East region that achieved just 46% with only 15% of passengers very satisfied.
Stagecoach Strathclyde were the highest performers for punctuality with an overall rating of 90% and 56% very satisfied. Lothian Buses and Stagecoach Tayside and Central rated higher for very satisfied customers, achieving 60% and 59% respectively. First North East and McGills Strathclyde shared the bottom spot with 80% satisfaction. McGills had the higher very satisfied score of 48% compared with 44% for First and unfortunately the highest very dissatisfied result of 6% (First 3%).
The on bus journey time section was fairly well fought with just 9% separating first and last place. Top with 93% was Stagecoach Tayside and Central, with an overall score of 93%, 64% of which were very satisfied. Stagecoach Strathclyde were just one point off but had the same number of very satisfied passengers. National Express Tayside and Central also came in at 92% but were 10% down on very satisfied results. Bringing up the rear was First North East with a respectable 84% and 44% very satisfied.
Scottish Transport Minister, Derek Mackay said of the results, ‘Bus services are an important part of the public transport mix in Scotland and provide a real alternative to the car, with 425 million journeys made in 2013-14. These latest survey results and high satisfaction rates are to be welcomed but they must also act as a key factor in improving our understanding of how services are perceived by customers, while also identifying areas for improvement. ‘
Following the presentation of the survey, there was a Q and A session before Gordon Marsden MP, Opposition Spokesman for Transport spoke to the assembled audience.
Having roots in the area, he spoke of the changes that he had witnessed to the bus industry in Manchester and the importance of a ‘bus for everyone, not just the current users.’
He said we ‘Must not fetish one form of transport over another’ and the integration of cross operator, smart ticketing was important. Regarding the survey, he blamed the Government’s cuts in spending and the fact that fares had risen five times above the level of wage increases, for passenger dissatisfaction. He also commented that this was more likely to occur amongst regular passenger and these were the ones that needed it most, creating a lifeline in more deprived areas. He concluded by saying that in five years time, he hoped to be reading research of satisfaction of integrated services.
Giles Fearnley, MD of First Bus UK
Giles opened by thanking Passenger Focus for the quality of the work that they do which is now an integral part of their calendar and fundamental to delivering passenger growth. He explained how First analyse the results and recognise it for the form of market intelligence that it is, acting on it and using it as a management tool. He also admitted that he was disappointed locally with some of the results and commented on how the value for money satisfaction figure for Manchester in 2012 was just 40% and was pleased to report a growth in this year’s survey to 73%.
He also commented on the poor value for money figures received for the West of England partnership two years ago. They tackled the issue with a massive consultation on fares at over 100 events across the region, gleaning some 7,000 public responses. This resulted in a zone system being introduced.
He concluded that regarding devolution, everyone had a responsibility to meet the passenger’s needs.
John Lamonte, CEO TfGM
John was pleased with the results in Greater Manchester, but said that he wanted to ‘up the game and be a world class city with a world class transport network.’ Bus travel currently makes up 80% of public transport in the region, equating to approximately 220m bus journeys per year, but 1.6bn are made by car.
Tourism represents £7bn a year and they are the third most visited city in the UK behind London and Edinburgh, therefore, it is important that they have the network in place to meet demands and compete with the rest of Europe. Last year 5,500 jobs were safeguarded and he said that ‘the government agrees that combined authorities should be able to shape infrastructure and local services to grow the economy and release the pressure from public service spending and buses are part of that.’ That sits with their own ambition and they are currently devolving their NHS budget. John doesn’t expect franchising will go away, post election and said that a franchise operation will provide a single, multi operator, multi modal integrated ticketing system with controls and accountability which is so important that it is linked to an elected mayor. It will provide a unified identity and a great opportunity to grow the market. He hopes operators will see the potential for growth and work together ‘to create a truly world class transport system.’
Tracy Jessop, Assistant Director, Highways and Transport for Norfolk County Council was scheduled to appear but was unable to attend on the day. The speakers reassembled to form a panel whereby a lively question and answer session ensued. Topics covered included; whether car use should be discouraged in Greater Manchester? Baroness Kramer explained the problems associated with introducing the Congestion Charge in London; The perception of buses and how to get people on them? It was noted that some people are too embarrassed to admit that they don’t know how to use a bus service so more information is needed and How to attract youngsters and job seekers aboard? It was suggested that by making the journey a good use of time with the introduction of Wi-Fi and charging points for devices, this could help.
The day concluded on a somewhat lighter note by a comment made by a transport psychologist who said that passengers ‘want to be in a state of reverie!’
What is worth remembering is that the survey only measures the performance as assessed by those actually using the services. It does nothing to determine the views of those who are no longer patrons or have never used them in the first place. This point was raised several times throughout the course of the event and Ian intimated that this was something that passenger Focus, albeit under their new guise, are planning for the future.