26 May 2009

Blindingly obvious

The Mirror was scathing yesterday when reporting the findings of a study into what passengers want out of their train service. The report concluded that travellers like somewhere to sit and for their trains to run on time. The Mirror described this outcome as "blindingly obvious" and was far less than impressed at the cost of the report, too - half a million pounds.

The government gave funding to psychologists working for the Rail Safety and Standards Board to undertake this research through a full study. Other 'astounding' outcomes include data finding that passengers like to "maintain space around them to minimise discomfort" and that they "hate being pushed or shoved". Fancy that!

The report was conducted over a two year period, which included the secret filming and interviewing of passengers in what was described as a "a practical appraisal in real-life situations". Admittedly, the study commenced before the current economic downturn, but nevertheless it does make us concerned that the likelihood of the report finding anything other than what it did was simply never going to happen.

Tony Ambrose of the pressure group More Train Less Strain said: "It beggars belief. It's bad enough having the highest fares and worst overcrowding in Europe without the added unpleasantness you have been filmed without your permission." At a time when the world seems to have gone mad, accusing rail hobbyists as being terrorists, the surreptitious filming of passengers has been sanctioned as perfectly acceptable for the study.

Getting back to the study's findings, we've mused today on what the other possible outcomes could possibly be! The travelling public are completely satisfied with their "train travel experiences" and wouldn't change a thing? They're happy being charged £150 for a one-way, standard-class, anytime single fare between London and Leeds? They enjoy having to be moved onto a bus on a Sunday when employees of certain train companies choose to all meet up for a big barbecue and ground their depot's fleet of trains?

In the bus industry right now, a similar investigation is likely to be met in the same way when its findings are made known. This is the Office of Fair Trading's (OFT) investigation into the bus industry to ensure that recent years' big acquisitions have not had a detrimental effect on the industry. While this is being welcomed by some corners of the bus industry (local councils/integrated transport authorities), it is seen by operators and industry insiders as a pointless exercise that is being done solely to justify the jobs of those within the OFT.

However, the outcome is not guaranteed to be as "blindingly obvious" as that published yesterday by the Rail Safety & Standards Board. In his forthcoming 'Chairtorial', LEYTR Chairman - and former MD of Lincolnshire RoadCar - Paul Hill gives a very frank account of the OFT and how it interacts with the bus industry and that its findings are not always what is expected.

The next LEYTR should be delivered in just under a fortnight. (GL)