Published: 7th July 2014
The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has released passenger complaints’ statistics for the first three months of 2014 and their information categorises complaints and aggregates them per 100,000 passenger journeys made for each train company.
The ORR also looks at who is best at answering complaints and how complaints are made. Why are these statistics important? Because a complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction and by looking at which company and what is complained about can reveal failings in that company and its activities.
The ORR says that there is a strong relationship between the level of satisfaction and levels of delay experienced by passengers and complaints provide an indication of service performance. The rail industry uses the information to identify areas which need to be improved to increase passenger satisfaction. It is also necessary to understand how easy it is made for passengers to complain, for example by notices at stations, trains or on websites.
The review period saw some of the worst winter weather for years with huge amounts of rain, plenty of high winds resulting in flooding, landslides and collapsed power lines, many under fallen trees. This brought speed restrictions and wholesale line closures such as at Dawlish and consequently, increased delays and cancellations.
Overall, there were 9% less complaints than the same period a year earlier with just 34 complaints made per 100,000 journeys which brought the moving annual average down to 29 complaints per 100,000 journeys.
Ten Train Operating Companies (TOCS) reduced their individual complaint rate while nine saw their complaints increase. The reporting period saw performance drop compared to the same quarter last year from 89.9% to 89.1% for all operators. Only First Great Western and Chiltern Railways received over 50% of complaints by letter reflecting the way complaints are made these days.
Train punctuality and reliability brought in 43.7% of categorised complaints, the largest segment reflecting the worsening punctuality statistics dropping to 90.9% from to 89.9% between 2012-13 Q4 and a year later. ORR thinks that complaints are reducing despite poorer performance because using social media keeps passengers informed of incidents.
East Coast Trains was the sole train operator for which train punctuality/reliability did not top the list of complaints. Their ticketing and refund policy generated 27% of their complaints
Six out of the eight TOCS which had the highest complaints rates operate all, or part of their services in the long distance market and there is more chance for delays to occur on long journeys. Long distance passengers are more likely to be leisure and business passengers who it seems, tend to complain more often than commuters.
Virgin Trains scored the worst for complaints per 100,000 passenger journeys for all franchised operators while East Coast Trains saw the greatest reduction in complaints in the last year from 212 complaints per 100,000 passenger journeys to 152 complaints. London Midland also saw a huge reduction of 56% in the last year from 97 complaints per 100,000 passenger journeys to 54 complaints.
Virgin Trains had 233.6 complaints per 100,000 journeys in 2013-14 Q4, an increase of 9.0% on the same quarter last year. The second highest number of complaints was received by East Coast with 165.3 per 100,000 passengers, an increase of 1.7% on the previous quarter.
The largest increase in the complaints rate in the last year was Chiltern Railways whose complaints doubled from 43 to 87 per 100,000 passenger journeys despite their punctuality rate remaining stable. Chiltern has changed the way they advertise their complaint channels which may be the reason they have received more complaints.
Southern saw a 182% increase in complaints, the largest in the UK from 5 to 13 complaints per 100,000 passenger journeys.
London Overground only received 3.3 complaints per 100,000 passengers which was a 30% increase over the last year.
The survey shows that fewer people are happy with the way complaints are dealt with by TOCs generating 4.5% more complaints, up from 3.6% in the previous period. Some of this is due to TOCs missing the 20 day target for answering complaints down from 91.2% to 81.9%. First Capital Connect and Arriva Trains Wales have said they struggle to meet the target given the amount of complaints received.
Chiltern Railways’ complaints due to punctuality/reliability were 68.6% with South West Trains scoring 65.2% for the same reason while c2c percentages have nearly doubled from 27.9% to 44.0% in the last year
These TOCs serve largely commuter markets and demonstrates increasing dissatisfaction with commuter routes. This could suggest that the link between poor performance and complaint topics is being broken as passenger resignation/acceptance of delays is changing passenger behaviour.
Ticketing and refunds policy received the second highest proportion of complaints in 2013-14 Q4, with 8.0% of all complaints. Complaints regarding ticketing and refunds policies accounted for the next highest proportion at 7.6%, followed by ticket buying facilities at 5.7%.
Chiltern achieved a 100% response rate for the first time while c2c, First TransPennine Express and Southeastern also answered 100% within the deadline.
Virgin Trains answered the lowest percentage of complaints within 20 working days with just 33% answered in the last year, the lowest percentage recorded and a decrease of 23 percentage points on the previous year. This is despite their overall complaints reducing.
Despite the internet, the National Rail Enquiry telephone service still received 3.8 million calls during 2013-14. Telephone enquiries have dropped year on year and reduced by 92.1% between 2004-05 and 2013-14. Last year there were 16% less calls made than the previous year.
How many calls are answered? Between 93.7% and 95.8% with 94.2% answered with 5.8% abandoned in 2013/4.