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Anthony Smith, chief executive, Passenger Focus

Do you trust your train company?

Passenger Focus last week published research looking at passengers’ trust in the rail industry. It showed that passengers are generally positive about the rail industry ranking it alongside airlines and not far off supermarkets, and higher than banks or energy companies. Chief executive Anthony Smith explains why.

Do you trust your train company?

Is this a relevant question? Surely as long as they get your there safely and on time does trust really matter? We think it does.

After years of sustained investment by passengers and government the daily experience of many passengers has improved. Our ‘on the day’ National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) shows this as does the rise in passenger numbers. We have been conducting the NRPS since 1999. Overall satisfaction scores have ranged from 69 per cent at its lowest in 2001 and the highest at 85 per cent in 2012.

Getting the trains on time remains a key priority – passengers are clearly saying service levels need be at least maintained or improved. Beyond that, dealing with passengers openly, fairly and honestly is important.

These cannot all be distress purchases. But are the various governments and the industry getting sufficient credit for this investment? Is there a warmer relationship developing with passengers?

The first thing we probed was how positive consumers feel towards various industries, including rail. Not bad – rail rated alongside airlines and not far off supermarkets. Individual train companies? Again, for many train companies levels of trust were quite good. Even the lower rated companies were inspiring more ambivalence rather than active distrust. Clearly the big ‘people movers’ in London and the South East are finding this harder.

So, how to move more passengers from feeling somewhat indifferent to a more trusting situation? The research is clear: daily service delivery is the building block. Without that building trust is difficult. Beyond delivering the basics a trusting relationship is important: being truthful, acting with honesty and integrity, building long-term relationships, treating customers fairly and communicating well are the components of this.

Interestingly those companies that did better in the trust ratings tended to be those that were getting more of their own communications through to passengers – otherwise the media tend to fill the vacuum. The spread of smartcards should enable more communication with passengers in the future.

Getting the trains on time remains a key priority – passengers are clearly saying service levels need be at least maintained or improved. Beyond that, dealing with passengers openly, fairly and honestly is important. That should be easier than getting the trains on time? Maybe, but it does involve some serious culture change which is never easy.

Have a look at how your train company did. Of course all the above applies to Network Rail as well – both in terms of what they do at their own stations but also in supporting the train companies.

Anthony Smith is chief executive of transport watchdog Passenger Focus