National rail passenger statistics produced by Transport Focus do not fully reflect passengers’ experiences, the Office for Statistics Regulation’s (OSR) latest assessment report revealed last week.

In its National Statistics assessment report covering the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) – a rail passenger satisfaction survey produced by Transport Focus – the OSR concluded the document needs improvements in order to “fully serve the public good”.

As a result, the OSR has urged the watchdog to take immediate action to make these statistics fully reflective of public satisfaction. This is to ensure that as the independent official measure of rail passenger satisfaction across the rail network, the NRPS can be used as national statistical evidence in the future.

The NRPS is currently seen as a key to hold the rail industry to account, in particular when it comes to franchised train operating companies (TOCs) and assessing the quality of train services provided to passengers.

In a letter to Transport Focus’ head of profession for statistics, OSR director-general for regulation Ed Humpherson said that “it is important that [these statistics] are accurate, quality assured and reflect the everyday experience of rail passengers”.

“It is our view that statistics derived from the NRPS do not currently meet these expectations,” he added.

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Humpherson highlighted two significant areas that need to be addressed. Firstly, the recent NRPS only measures passenger satisfaction in the spring and autumn and therefore fails to capture the impact of rail journeys on passengers before and after these periods. These usually include issues caused by national timetable changes in May and December, short-term effects following the annual fares increases each January, as well as extreme weather conditions.

Secondly, the report said that the statistics must aim to capture broader passenger satisfaction based on an operator’s overall level of service, and not just on the last journey a customer took.

Humpherson said: “These statistics are also the only publicly available measure for understanding rail passenger satisfaction across the rail network. Substantial collaborative action by Transport Focus, the Department for Transport and the rail industry is required to enhance the public value of these important statistics so that they can be relevant and underpin an evolving rail industry.”

The OSR’s assessment further identified 14 requirements across the three pillars of the Code of Practice for Statistics that are designed to enhance the public value, quality and trustworthiness of the statistics, and demanded Transport Focus to publish an action plan outlining how it will address the requirements in January 2020.

“We note that potential changes to rail industry following the Williams Rail Review may directly impact on your plans for addressing the requirements,” Humpherson added.

Responding to the assessment, national union of rail, maritime and transport workers (RMT) general secretary Mick Cash told Railway Technology that the NRPS is “not fit for purpose in its current form”.

Cash added: “Often the NRPS does not reflect the experiences of passengers and train operating companies can ultimately be rewarded for failure. Rail companies should be compelled to act upon this feedback.

“Passengers are being asked to pay extortionate fares for a service that is getting worse by the day and private train operators must be held accountable for their failings. The NRPS needs root and branch reform to ensure it reflects the reality of the passenger experience and focuses on what passengers want from their railway: an affordable, reliable, safe and accessible railway that is fully staffed.”

In response to this report, Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith told Railway Technology: “We welcome this report, which acknowledges our efforts to continuously improve and innovate, and shows that the research is well on its way to being designated a National Statistic.

“The National Rail Passenger Survey is a key tool for improving passengers’ experiences, by pinpointing exactly when and where things are going well – or not. The Transport Focus Strategic Road Users Survey is already continuous, so we know that further investment to extend the rail survey would boost the usefulness and reach of this insight.”