Decade of stagnation and soaring fares for rail passengers – as latest price hike looms

Following months of timetable chaos for rail passengers, new Which? analysis reveals passenger satisfaction with punctuality and reliability has dropped over the last 10 years, while trust has plummeted and fares have spiralled.

The consumer champion’s analysis of official Transport Focus data found overall passenger satisfaction with punctuality and reliability has fallen by six percentage points over a decade, from 79% (Spring 2008) to 73% (Spring 2018).

For commuters, satisfaction in those areas was even worse, falling by 10 percentage points over the same time period from 72% to 62%.

After months of disruption for Northern and Govia Thameslink (GTR), trust in the train industry is also approaching its lowest point in the last six years according to Which?’s consumer insight tracker.

Only 23% of people said they trust train travel companies (July 2018; down six percentage points on July 2017), making rail the least trusted consumer industry apart from car dealers.

Meanwhile rail fare prices have increased by 40% since 2008, more than one and a half times higher than the overall rate of CPI inflation (26%) for the same period.

Train passengers will find out how much fares are likely to rise by in January 2019 when July’s RPI figure is announced on Wednesday 15 August.

Which?’s analysis of Transport Focus data on delay handling shows satisfaction scores have remained stubbornly low with little change over the last 10 years, with only a four percentage point increase in satisfaction, from 34% to 38%.

Satisfaction with value for money is stuck at 46% – having increased by just three percentage points over the decade for all passengers. For commuters there was only a marginal rise in appallingly low satisfaction levels, from 30% to 31%.

Which? is calling on the Government to introduce automatic compensation for all passengers experiencing delays and cancellations to prevent them going through the hassle and time-consuming process of applying for it themselves.

It is also urging the Government to ensure there are no further delays in introducing the new Rail Ombudsman so that passengers are able to resolve complaints.

Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive of Which?, said:

“With persistent poor service, delays, cancellations and the hassle of getting compensation for their journeys, it’s unsurprising that trust in the rail industry has been consistently low and is only getting worse. Passengers expect increased satisfaction to come with the hike in their ticket prices, not a decade of disappointment and unprecedented disruption like many have faced this year.

“If the rail system is to have any hope of recovering passengers’ trust the Government must step in to ensure they are automatically compensated for delays and cancellations. Moreover the new Rail Ombudsman must not be delayed further so that passenger complaints don’t continue to go unheard.”

Notes to editors

  • Passenger satisfaction statistics: Which? analysis of the bi-annual Transport Focus National Rail Passenger Survey, which is run in the Spring and Autumn every year. We used a two wave moving average to control for seasonal variation.
  • Rail fare prices are currently calculated based on a formula linked to the Retail Price Index (RPI). This was the official inflation measure until 2003, although the Office for National Statistics still produces statistics for it. It rose by 32% between January 2008 and January 2018.
  • The Consumer Price Index (CPI) was the official inflation measure between 2003 and 2017 (statistics are still produced for it) and has risen by 27% between January 2008 and January 2018.
  • The current official measure of inflation is the Consumer Price Index including owner occupier housing costs (CPIH) and it  replaced the CPI as the official inflation measure in 2017 (with statistics going back as far as 2005). This has risen by 24% between January 2008 and January 2018.
  • In order to calculate how much fares have risen above inflation in the last 10 years, we used the official measure of inflation at the time of each fare rise to compare with the ORR fare increase index. This means we used CPI from January 2008 to January 2017, and grew the CPI index figure by the CPI(H) year on year change rate to generate the 2018 figure.
  • Which? has analysed how rail fares rose against inflation. Since January 2008, fares have risen by 40% according to the ORR fares data, while inflation (as measured by the adjusted CPI) has risen by 26%.
  • The Which? Consumer Insight Tracker website is an online data resource, providing a uniquely detailed picture of today’s consumers. It is updated every two months, and reports survey data on consumer worries, trust, and financial distress. It is based on a sample size of approximately 2,000 consumers and goes back to June 2012.

ORR; Index showing average change in price of rail fares by regulated and unregulated tickets – Table 1.81.

Press Release