Congestion, drivers’ attitude, waiting times and more – do you know what your passengers want from their bus? The results are in from Autumn 2017’s Bus Passenger Survey
“I’ve seen a lot of things in the industry that have impressed me, and this comes through in these results,” says Buses Minister, Nusrat Ghani MP, to delegates at the launch of Transport Focus’ Bus Passenger Survey.
It was a positive outcome for overall satisfaction, which sees a 1% increase on 2016, now at 88% – with Bournemouth and Northumberland having the most satisfied passengers (94%), and Worcestershire having the lowest satisfaction rating (78%).
There was even greater encouragement that we’ll hopefully see a 100% overall satisfaction score for an operator in future, seeing as Go-Ahead Group-owned Southern Vectis scored an impressive 96%.
Ms Ghani thanks Southern Vectis for “achieving an outstanding 96% overall satisfaction, a figure that any company can be proud of.”
At the launch of the results, speakers included Robert Pain, Senior Insight Advisor at Transport Focus; Buses Minister, Nusrat Ghani MP; Matt Rodda MP, Shadow Minister for Transport; David Sidebottom, Director, Transport Focus; Maks Pruszewicz, Reading Buses’ ‘Driver of the year’, with Martijn Gilbert, Chief Executive Officer, Reading Buses; and Alex Warner, Chief Executive, Flash Forward Consulting.
Mr Pain, who presented the results, says: “It’s the largest survey we have ever conducted with 48,000 passengers covered – with the largest number of areas covered in England; Scotland this year wasn’t a full national survey, and there was a national Welsh survey.”
The key findings covered:
- Satisfaction with value for money
- Satisfaction with punctuality
- On-bus journey time.
Fare-paying passengers in County Durham are among the most satisfied with value for money, with the region scoring 73%, and Stagecoach in Mersey & Halton having the highest average for an operator (78%).
However, there is a wide variation across the board with Worcestershire (52%) and Stagecoach East, Busway (42%) having the lowest satisfaction with value for money.
Passengers in Northamptonshire and Northumberland are most satisfied with punctuality (83%), with Worcestershire again being the least satisfied (61%).
On-bus journey time revealed more details about the issues affecting journey time, highlighting that congestion is one of the major problems passengers face (23%), followed by roadworks (14%) and poor weather conditions (3%). Bus-related problems that affect times included boarding times (18%), waiting too long at stops (6%) and driving too slowly (4%).
Southern Vectis cemented its successful operation by having the most satisfied on-bus journey time (96%).
Key findings by operators
When looking at the ‘Big Five’ national operators, the results stagger across the board. Arriva was the only one to see a decline in overall satisfaction of just 1% from 88% in 2016, First broke even with 84%, and Stagecoach had the greatest increase of 4% with 90%. Go-Ahead has the highest average with 91%, and National Express saw a 1% increase from 84%.
This continued to value for money, which again shows Arriva as the only operator to see a fall of 1%, and First with the biggest increase of 3% on 2016. First and National Express remain the operators with the least satisfied passengers for value for money at 63%, with Stagecaoch having the most satisfied with 68%.
Although First is showing the least satisfaction rate for puncuality, it has seen a 1% increase; Go-Ahead remains the most satisfied at 77% even with a 2% fall on 2016.
On-bus journey times are quite high for all operators with Go-Ahead again being the highest at 86%. National Express has the lowest rate of 79% – a 3% fall on 2016.
The survey launch also discussed the drivers’ role in providing bus passenger satisfaction, and highlighted that Transport Focus’s young people research revealed that a friendly bus driver who smiles and says “hello” features on an ideal journey, with 3% of young bus users saying their driver isn’t friendly all of the time, 12% saying most of the time and 20% about half of the time.
Says Ms Ghani: “It’s very clear from this survey – and Transport Focus’ recent work on young people and bus services – that the connection with the driver can turn a good journey into a great journey, and as more operators move towards contactless and other types of smart ticketing, there’s less emphasis on the driver being a ‘cash collector’ and more on becoming a welcoming presence onboard.”
Mr Pruszewicz was named 'Top National Bus Driver' at the UK Bus Awards in 2017. He spoke at the launch event about the view from the driver’s seat. The enthusiastic driver clearly expressed his love for the job. “So what, I’ve been asked, are the secrets to passenger satisfaction?” he says.
It’s the little things, Mr Pruszewicz says, that can ensure a ‘great journey’ is had, and he emphasises that it’s all in the interaction with the passengers. Whether it’s welcoming each customer onboard, lowering the bus for anyone who appears to have mobility problems, waiting for people to be seated before pulling away, and always look around for any ‘runners’ that might trying to board the bus.
Mr Gilbert described the perfect recipe for how Reading Buses hires its people. He says: “We recruit on one principle: People who like people. Everything else you can pretty much train them on; what you can’t train them on is an attitude of liking people.”
The closing speech came from Mr Warner: “Where’s your vision? Where do you want to get? The scores are all very good – Southern Vectis are so close to 100%, could we at some point see the first 100% bus company?
“It may well happen, but where’s the vision, where’s the strategy, where’s the substance below that?”
Communication holds the key.
The panel of speakers at the event all had a similar theme – communication.
The Bus Passenger Survey is a perfect opportunity for operators and regions to listen to what their passengers are wanting and expecting from their buses, because most of time, the only communication a passenger will have is with the driver.
The survey showed that the biggest issues passengers have with the services don’t fall with the driver, such as congestion, and as Mr Pruszewicz highlighted, most of the time, passengers just want to know why the bus is late, and providing that communication is essential.
It’s important to remember, as Mr Sidebottom says: “It’s about how you recruit, and how you support drivers. Customer service doesn’t begin with the driver, it’s about the business – getting the culture right and the focus right.”