Rail fares have been increased up to 3.6% from January 2018, in line with the higher alternative retail price index (RPI) measure of inflation announced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The rise, the biggest annual increase in five years, applied to about 40% of rail fares, including season tickets on many commuter journeys, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys and anytime tickets around major cities, according to The Guardian.
Commuters have quickly registered their discontent with the rise – a rise which, ironically, has been confirmed on the same day of a major rail disruption. Many flocked to Twitter calling for rail services to be publicly owned and that the Government needs to do more to protect commuters from unfair prices.
With statistics from consumer watchdog Transport Focus highlighting that only 47% of passengers on rail services nationally actually feel they get value for their money, it is time for rail operators to rethink their approach to the passenger experience and how they deliver value to customers.
In evaluating the rise and what the profits would be used for, Rail Delivery Group broke down how each £1 is spent on the transport network:
Yet, despite the investment, commuters’ dissatisfaction with the UK rail services in general is one well documented. In the UK, passengers spend six times more on train fares than European counterparts, and still have a disastrous service. Worse still, train fares have increased ‘twice as much as wages’ since 2010, according to new research, leading commuters to question the value they are actually getting from rail transportation.
Traditionally, fare rises have been made with the need to improve aging rail infrastructure – and, while these upgrades will ultimately lead to a better service in the long-term, it generally leads to platforms or stations being closed for an extended period of time. This causes further disruption, delays and increases the feeling of dissatisfaction amongst passengers.
Rail operators, in many cases, are first concerned with improving the network’s infrastructure – but pay little to no attention to actually improving the customer experience on the trains. With 26% being dedicated to ‘investment in the rail network’ one would assume that includes improving on-board services, too? Yet, when commuters complain about the price of their journey and the value they get for their money, it often comes down to how pleasant the experience is, and any extras on top of the standard ‘journey’ that are available to them. These extras could be anything from secure, high-speed Wi-Fi to a plug socket to charge their phone or laptop device. And, in many of these cases, much of these features are unavailable. Of course, there is the barrier of cost, but surely there are ways to keep costs down, improve services, and generate more revenue?
How can rail operators improve their services, but keep costs down?
Southern, the worst performing rail firm – as confirmed by a poll by independent watchdog Transport Focus – only offers plug sockets for passengers to charge their phones on a small number of trains out of the many available extras that a rail operator could provide. Since April 2016, Southern has provided free, albeit patchy, Wi-Fi at over 100 of its stations network wide, but this service has yet to be expanded to its trains. And, despite a government pledge to introduce “fast, cheap Internet connections” across the rail network, most rail operators don’t – and if they do, it’s slow. For any commuter, Wi-Fi connectivity is becoming an essential requirement. We are all routinely on our phones trying to get work done or digest some much needed entertainment to liven up the morning commute. Rail operators who do not provide the simplest of services, such as free Wi-Fi, are missing out on an opportunity to deliver more value to their customers. Not only is it affordable, but will allow rail operators to introduce new services.
Personalised advertising and on-board entertainment services
Having implemented Wi-Fi, the next step is to provide customers with personalised advertising based on their browsing habits. Free Wi-Fi aboard trains will enable rail operators to quickly build a diverse portfolio of data which they can then analyse to determine how customers are using the service, e.g. if customers predominantly use the Wi-Fi service to watch movies or download content, a revenue generating avenue for the business would be on-board entertainment services. Companies could even use this very same on-board entertainment service as a platform to generate revenue from advertising. On the other hand, if customers use the Wi-Fi service for work-related activities, the next step would be improving the Wi-Fi’s capacity and speed. Offering a high-quality Wi-Fi service at suitable prices, for example, selling data packages to passengers, could in turn generate further revenue for rail providers. In addition, with the data available, rail operators can start to advertise more personalised services to its customers and team up with other brands to provide offers and discounts.
Real-time information and updates
Another element to consider is information. Customers are regularly annoyed by the lack of visibility into problems that may occur on or off the train – and are usually notified too late. More often than not, passengers will board a service 10 minutes early, only to find that, a minute before departure time, the train driver “cannot be found”. Instead of leaving customers uninformed, regular, real-time service updates directly to the train’s overhead display or to mobile phones will help to keep customers up to date. For example, the moment a customer boards a train and they are connected to the train’s Wi-Fi network, they receive a notification asking them if they want real-time journey/train updates. Also, customers can get more information regarding connections and other transport services in the vicinity – and perhaps, even, request a cab from the train!
Focus has always been on infrastructure and facilities, but in the 21st century, it increasingly needs to be on improving the features within the train and what passengers can do to relax and enjoy the journey. As rail operators begin to provide customers with greater value for their money – through the inclusion of great on-board services – customer retention and acquisition will improve, resulting in greater revenue and customer satisfaction; which are excellent prospects for the business.
Using a modern infotainment system can enhance and transform the customer experience on public transport. Find out how the quality of Wi-Fi and digital on-board services can also contribute to improved passenger safety and security by downloading our eBook: