Scotland politics

ScotRail passenger satisfaction falls

ScotRail train Image copyright Getty Images

Passenger satisfaction with ScotRail services has fallen but remains higher than the UK as a whole, despite problems with delays and cancellations.

The latest National Rail Passenger Satisfaction (NRPS) figures showed that 83% of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their ScotRail journey.

This was four percentage points lower than the previous survey last June, and seven points lower than a year ago.

The figure for the UK as a whole in the most recent survey was 81%.

The fieldwork for the survey, carried out by Transport Focus, was conducted between September and November 2016.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said he was "disappointed" by the survey results, but said ScotRail's improvement plan was "delivering some results".

'Difficult year'

It was the first to be carried out following the five month closure of the upper platforms at Queen Street Station and last summer's industrial action by RMT union members.

ScotRail Alliance Managing Director Phil Verster - who announced last week that he will be leaving his post - said the rail operator was disappointed that its satisfaction figures had not increased.

Mr Verster added: "However, they come on the back of a difficult year for our customers. Operating a busy and complicated network is challenging at the best of times - and we are doing so during one of the largest investments in modernisation since Scotland's railway was built in Victorian times.

"There is no alternative, though, to doing the work.

"The decision to invest in the railway's future has been put off too many times and it is in the best long term interests of passengers that we get on and do it. It is then our job to do whatever we can to keep people moving during this work and to better communicate when things go wrong and explain why they go wrong."

Image caption Phil Verster announced last week that was leaving ScotRail to take up a new role in England

The work at Queen Street followed on from a similar project at Winchburgh Tunnel, and is part of the multi-billion pound investment in Scotland's railway network.

It also includes the electrification of the line between Glasgow and Edinburgh, similar work on the Shotts line, electrification of the line between Stirling, Dunblane and Alloa and a major upgrade of the line between Aberdeen and Inverness.

There were also several large-scale incidents during the survey period - including a major one at Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh that caused widespread disruption.

Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: "The results around the country are disappointing. Scottish passengers and those travelling in peak hours in London and the south east are bearing the brunt of poor performance.

"The timetable on parts of the London and South East's railway can be a work of fiction which passengers cannot rely on. As passenger numbers rise, parts of the rail network will remain brittle until welcome improvements are in place and working."

Improvement plan

Last November, Transport Minister Humza Yousaf apologised to ScotRail passengers following criticism of ScotRail's reliability since Abellio took over the contract in April 2015.

Mr Yousaf, who also suggested rail services could be taken into the public sector in the future, had previously ordered ScotRail to draw up an improvement plan, which was published in full on 29 November.

Image caption Humza Yousaf was questioned about the improvement plan at Holyrood

Figures published earlier this month showed the reliability of ScotRail trains significantly improved in the weeks after the improvement plan was published.

The PPM data showed 89.7% of trains arrived within five minutes of schedule in the four weeks to 7 January. This was a 6% rise on the previous four weeks, and a 2.8% improvement on the same period last year.

But ScotRail's annual performance was 90% - below the 91.3% target set in Abellio's contract for the franchise.

Mr Yousaf was questioned by MSPs about the latest figures at Holyrood.

He said he was "disappointed" by the results, but insisted progress had been made during "an exciting and challenging period for rail in Scotland".

He said: "Let me be clear, ScotRail is not yet performing at the level I would like it to. However, let's also be clear, neither is the situation the apocalyptic scenario often painted by our opponents."

'Uncosted raids'

Scottish Conservative MSP Liam Kerr said it was right Mr Yousaf came to the chamber in the wake of the change of management at ScotRail, saying the government had "driven Mr Verster from his post".

He said the government had been responsible for "ill-thought-through announcements regarding public sector bids and the future of the franchise", "uncosted raids" on funds and "the situation on the ground deteriorating" for commuters, asking if new boss Alex Hynes would be given the government's full support.

Mr Yousaf replied that he would not take lectures from a Tory on rail services, adding that he did not recognise the Scottish rail service described. He added that the government would back Mr Hynes, and hoped all MSPs would.

Labour's Neil Bibby said passengers were fed up with the level of delays, cancellations and skipped stops, asking if Mr Yousaf would take responsibility if targets were not hit.

The minister replied that "it must be very depressing to live in the mind of Neil Bibby, where everything seems to be going wrong", insisting there had been improvements in services.

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