Saturday, January 16, 2010

Not Good Enough

This post is about money and what passengers should expect for it.

I had some upper middle-aged relatives stay with me earlier this week. They live up in the North East of England. Like most upper middle-aged people (I have to be careful, as they may read this), they have free bus passes which work on all local bus services across the UK.

They also have annual passes for the Tyne & Wear Metro. As upper middle-aged people they pay £12 a year each for those passes.

They were somewhat gobsmacked when I told them how much I pay each year to travel to and from work. When I renew my ticket this year, it will cost me over £3,600. That is a lot of money.

Two single journeys and one return journey, between London Marylebone and my local station, cost each of my relatives somewhat more than twice what they pay, each year, to travel on the Tyne & Wear Metro. They were somewhat surprised at the cost. The journeys were not in the morning peak and all were bought with Upper Middle-Aged Railcards.

While traveling out of London the other day, a work colleague mentioned that he is seriously considering driving in to London from Oxfordshire, simply because his train and car park tickets cost so much.

The trains are all diesel and each carriage has engines. It therefore follows that every additional carriage costs more money to run. However, as I have already pointed out, passengers pay good money to use the trains.

It has been noticeable over the last week or so that Chiltern have been running shorter trains than is normal. Generally just the odd carriage here and there. The problem is that their usual train lengths are based upon very accurate records and monitoring of passenger flows.

Specific examples were on a number of evening peak trains from London last week. I know that snow caused a few issues, but there does seem to be a drip, drip, of shorter trains.

This afternoon's 16.12 train from Birmingham Snow Hill to London Marylebone was a 2 coach train. It was pretty full at Princess Risborough (a very small number of middle 'glower loudly' seats were available). At High Wycombe about 50 people tried to board, hardly any will have got a seat and many didn't even try to get on. The train was to run none stop to London with a journey time of 30 minutes.

On a weekend it really should not be necessary to stand for half an hour on any train.

The Chairman of Chiltern Railways stated publicly, only yesterday, that the purpose of the the business was to make money. I have no problem with that - that should be the aim of all businesses. He also said that this was achieved by listening carefully to what passengers wanted.

Chiltern Railways regularly publish performance and Customer Satisfaction Results. They are generally excellent, though it is noticeable that the last figures show that only 46% of customers think that their journeys are good value for money.

So, there are two possibilities:
  1. The train company may be suffering from an abnormally high number of train failures, leading to shortened trains. If this is the case, Chiltern Railways should be open about this, tell their passengers, and advise what they are doing to fix the problem, or;
  2. The train company is deliberately shortening trains to save money. Obviously they wouldn't want to publicise such a policy and I hope it is not the case.
Regardless, Chiltern Railways need to look at their train lengths on certain services. My observation from the last couple of weeks is that some trains are simply too short.

I am generally pretty supportive of Chiltern Railways (they are after all one of the best run railway companies in the UK), but if the current situation continues then they will start to see a drop in their recorded customer satisfaction scores.

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