Far From A Fair Fare

In her first Thursday Night Insight contribution, Tanja Kach compares two public transport systems, wondering why one can get it right time and time again, whilst the other seems unable to fulfil its core offering and satisfy even its customers’ most basic requirements.

On my recent visit to Switzerland over the Christmas period, I was fondly reminded of just how efficient and reliable the Swiss public transport system is. The intricate and complex system of trains, buses, mountain funiculars and even boats all link up and offer passengers an unrivalled transportation service. All the timetables have been synchronised, with Swiss precision, to allow efficient connections between the various modes of public transport.

As an example of how customer satisfaction can be achieved within the public transport sector, I’d like to recount my positive experience of a trip into the Swiss Alps.

Knowing that I could fully rely on the public transport system to get me there, I wasn’t worried in the least that I would have to change modes of transport – from bus to train and then to mountain funicular – during my journey.

The bus arrived right on time to take me to the train station where I had seven minutes to get from the bus stop to the train. The train was due to depart at exactly two minutes past the hour and, as I sat near the window and watched the clock on the platform, I heard the whistle blow and the doors close the second the minute hand struck two.

As the train departed the station I settled into my seat ready to enjoy the scenic journey, fully confident that the train would arrive just as punctually as it had departed. Sure enough, I got to my destination on the minute exactly and within four minutes I had changed platforms and boarded the funicular that had been ready waiting to take the train load of passengers into the mountains.

It may seem amazing that an intricate and complex transport system can be run in such an efficient manner, where trains, buses, funiculars and even boats are all interlinked and connect seamlessly, yet the Swiss public has come to expect this level of service and relies on it.

Back in the UK, however, my experiences of using the public transport system couldn’t be more different. Ever since returning back to work after the New Year I have been subjected to delayed trains and cancelled services on my daily commute.

Over the past week there have actually been a number of articles published in Manchester’s Metro newspaper on an almost daily basis all about the latest issues concerning delayed train services: “Misery as key rail line shuts”, “The (very) late train robbery…”, “Rail upgrade launch is hitch-free (…in Italy)”. Even after recent changes have been made to the train timetables in a bid to improve the service offering, there have been massive disruptions to rail services across the country.

In addition to all these changes and disruptions, the fares for rail passengers have increased as well, leaving commuters with a worse service offering at an increased price! Needless to say this has left commuters fuming. A recent poll in the Metro on whether New Year rail fare increases are justified showed that an overwhelming 87% of passengers voted “No”.

The majority of passengers would accept fare increases if they could see a marked improvement in the service. A higher ticket price would be justified if rail companies were delivering on their core service offering as promised: to get passengers from point A to point B for an agreed price and, most importantly, at an agreed time.

And this is what it boils down to: focussing on meeting the key needs of the customer. In order to achieve customer satisfaction a company must understand its customer’s needs and then satisfy those needs with its core offering.

When it comes to public transport the key requirements are punctuality and reliability. Passengers expect a train service that consistently runs on time, so they can rely on it. Only once these key requirements have been met, will passengers be satisfied with the core offering of rail service providers. And perhaps in future, rail companies may even achieve to delight their customers.

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