Passenger satisfaction affected by growing congestion menace

The latest Transport Focus survey shows that overall satisfaction among bus passengers in England and Scotland rose by one per cent in 2016 to 87 per cent, compared to the previous year, although satisfaction for punctuality of bus services fell by two per cent overall to 73 per cent.

The results for punctuality from the survey of almost 47, 000 passengers ranged widely from 65 to 84 per cent in the survey areas which Transport Focus puts down to the impact of congestion and road works, claiming that more than a quarter of journeys in England were held up by congestion.

“Passengers tell us they want a frequent, punctual and reliable service which offers value for money: the core product,” says David Sidebottom, Transport Focus director. “The results show that despite satisfaction levels remaining high, increasing road congestion and the impact of road works is hitting the ability to deliver these basics in some of our towns and major cities.

“We have seen some excellent initiatives of bus operators and local authorities working together to deal with the challenges facing their areas such as congestion. The West Midlands Bus Alliance and the newer Liverpool City Region Bus Alliance are examples of partnership working that should become easier once the forthcoming Bus Services Act is implemented in England. Such a concerted effort, combined with the survey results, should help achieve one of the aims of the legislation – to improve the passenger experience.”

In Scotland, the watchdog surveyed more than 9,000 passengers and said overall passenger satisfaction was 90 per cent, while satisfaction with punctuality since the last survey in 2014 had fallen from 86 to 80 per cent, and value for money at 68 per cent.

CPT welcomed the figures saying it was a vindication of partnership working between operators and local authorities.

“ The industry can be justifiably proud of these results especially when increasing road congestion and seemingly never-ending road works are making delivering reliable local bus services all the more difficult,” says CPT chief executive Simon Posner. The Survey also highlighted that where bus operators and local authorities work together in partnership, they can very often overcome some of these challenges. This is yet further evidence that the current regulatory regime is “fit for purpose” and that the threat of local bus franchising – which could see operators lose their businesses – will do nothing but create uncertainty and market instability.”

An alternative interpretation of the potential impact of the forthcoming legislation is offered by Lianna Etkind, public transport campaigner, Campaign for Better Transport: “As more and more cars clog up our roads it is vital local authorities implement more congestion busting measures, such as dedicated bus lanes and introduce more workplace parking levies to reverse this trend.

“Also, the growth in smart ticketing, similar to Oyster in London, should speed up boarding, ensuring more buses arrive on time.  

“The Bus Services Bill, currently going through Parliament, offers local authorities new powers to plan and set standards for their bus networks, improving people's access to jobs, services and education. With falling bus passenger numbers across the country local authorities must seize the opportunity to reverse the decline and make sure more people can access affordable, reliable, attractive buses.” 

Meanwhile Stagecoach says that congestion is costing it an extra £7million a year in Manchester where satisfaction with waiting time among Stagecoach customers dropped by 7 per cent in the past year and by 14 per cent since 2013. 

“The statistics clearly show that traffic congestion is having an increasingly damaging impact on passenger satisfaction, and undermining the attractiveness of bus travel,” says Stagecoach Group director of communications Steven Stewart. “We need urgent action from the politicians who have the ability to do something about it now, to tackle traffic congestion, improve air quality and show they are on the side of the millions of bus passengers across the country.”

Managing Director of First Bus, Giles Fearnley, welcomed the latest passenger satisfaction data: “I’m pleased many of our businesses have recorded improved customer satisfaction results. For example, First Essex has scored a 9 per cent improvement whilst we are seeing marked progression in Manchester, Scotland, the Potteries, and the South Coast. 

“However, we are very aware that we must continue to improve if we are to deliver a service to our customers that we can really be proud of. Worsening congestion in some areas continues to make this even more challenging.”

Fearnley points out that there is clear evidence of the impact of congestion on passenger attitudes: “For example, in West of England and West Yorkshire, there is a clear link between worsening congestion and our customers’ frustration around punctuality and journey times, which is of course reflected in these survey results.

“There is a growing recognition of the role of the bus in addressing not just congestion, but also air quality and in supporting the success of local economies. We are developing ever stronger partnerships with local authorities ensuring that bus plays its full role in supporting the communities we serve.”

Reading Buses points to the fact that its passengers reflected strong satisfaction scores in spite of road closures and significant traffic disruption in the town.

“Despite the problems at the time the survey took place between September and December last year, customers still rated us highly and appreciated our efforts to get them where they needed to go,” says chief executive officer Martijn Gilbert.

More than 1,000 Reading Buses customers were surveyed by Passenger Focus and the operator says it came first in five of the 32 elements surveyed and in the top five of 28 of the 32 elements.

“Most encouragingly is recognition of the vitally important role of our frontline employees in delivering the best possible service to customers,” adds Gilbert. “We are in the top six in England for the driver attitude and driving style areas.”