Passenger complaints stable, but GTR problems mount
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) accounted for nearly a fifth of all passenger complaints made to train operators in the third quarter of 2016-17 (October-December 2016).
According to figures released by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), the number of passenger complaints made to train operators in Q3 2016-17 remained at the same level as the corresponding period in 2015, at 29.4 complaints per 100,000 journeys. However, those figures mask a soaring increase in complaints about GTR.
The figures detail the number of passenger complaints that were closed in the quarter, rather than those which remain open.
GTR accounted for 19% of all complaints made nationally in the quarter, rising by 347.1% compared with the previous year. The ORR reports says this can “partly be explained by GTR’s poor punctuality during Q3”. South West Trains recorded a 71.5% increase in complaints, followed by Southeastern (up 33.3%), and Greater Anglia (up 18.3%). These four operators were responsible for just over half of complaints closed nationally.
“The complaints rate stabilising in Q3 this year has been caused by the increase in complaints to London and South East TOCs. Without the increase at these TOCs the complaints rate would have continued to fall,” the ORR reports.
The franchised operator with the highest complaints rate was Virgin Trains West Coast, with a figure of 135.5 complaints per 100,000 journeys, followed by Greater Anglia (67.5) and Virgin Trains East Coast (62.8).
However, although their rates were greater than other operators, the greater number of journeys made on the likes of GTR means there were more complaints overall for the latter. The lowest franchised operator complaints rates were achieved by London Overground (1.9), TfL Rail (3.6) and Merseyrail (9.1). Open access operator Grand Central recorded the highest national rate of complaints, with a figure of 223.2.
Despite receiving the highest rate of complaints for franchised operators, Virgin Trains West Coast also received the most letters of praise, with 9.3 contacts per 100,000 journeys. Hull Trains received the highest rate of praise overall, with 29.5 contacts per 100,000 journeys.
Punctuality is the most complained-about issue, accounting for 28.5% of all complaints, although those relating to fares and retailing are also increasing. ‘Ticket buying facilities - other’, which covers the ticket buying process, recorded a 4.7 percentage point rise in complaints to 8.1% of the total. Overall, however, the national complaints closed rate is still far below a peak of 160 per 100,000 journeys around the turn of the century.
The ORR’s statistics also show performance in answering complaints within 20 working days.
Four operators - Chiltern, CrossCountry, GTR and Southeastern - answered all complaints in that period, while at the bottom of the table was Great Western Railway, which answered 49.6% of complaints within the timeframe. TransPennine Express (55.6%) and Arriva Trains Wales (58.2%) were the other two worst operators in this category.
An average of 68.5% of complaints were made via email or websites, reflecting the shift away from traditional letters as the most common contact method. As recently as 2010-11, postal contact was the most common method for complaints for all bar three train operators.
The number of calls made to National Rail Enquiries continued its decline, with a figure of 692,289 enquiries in the quarter, a fall of 6.8% compared with the previous year. This reflects an annual decline of 5.5% in calls made during 201516, to 3.1 million.