Why the rail industry should see passenger complaints as a good thing

2 November 2015

Stephanie Tobyn

At the Office of Road and Rail (ORR), we've been reviewing how train and station operators handle passenger complaints. Passengers should be at the heart of the railway, and central to this, they now play an increasingly important role in the operation of the railway; both by contributing to a growing share of its running costs but also providing valuable feedback to ensure services better meet their needs.

We believe that effective complaints handling systems can bring real benefits to the industry by not just empowering consumers to seek answers when things go wrong, but also helping operators tackle root causes of dissatisfaction so that the same problems don't arise again and again. This will deliver continuous improvements in the experience rail passengers have, when using the rail network.

This is why, I believe, the rail industry should view passenger complaints and related data as a good thing. They are vital to improving service standards and encouraging excellence, and by listening to and acting on the issues underlying passenger complaints now, companies should be able to reduce the need for passengers to complain in the future.

The rail regulator took on the responsibility for approving and monitoring compliance of Complaints Handling Procedures (CHPs) from the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2013, and since then, we've been working with all parts of the industry as well as speaking to passenger bodies to help improve user experience on the railway.

We have now published new complaints handling guidance for train and station operators. The new guidance is aimed at making sure that the industry focuses on putting the right training, staff and organisational structures in place to respond to consumer feedback and improve the rail service for all.

Here's snapshot of what the new guidance features:

  • Introduction of a clear distinction between complaints and feedback, particularly in use of social media platforms such as Twitter. (An issue we have highlighted previously).
  • A requirement for train or station operators to coordinate responses to complaints about third parties (such as car park providers or catering staff) – this will ensure that the passenger is not disadvantaged by, for example, having to address a complaint to several different bodies.
  • A new obligation to establish an appeals handling process with the passenger bodies (Transport Focus and London Travel Watch), where the passenger bodies think this would be appropriate.
  • How ORR will monitor compliance with the guidance, including publication of key performance data demonstrating how Network
  • Rail and train operating companies are complying with their obligations in this area.

We now want to see operators demonstrate how they are complying with their obligations to manage passenger complaints by sending us their new processes on complaints handling. We will also be surveying passengers in the near future to check if the new process and guidance is really working for them.

Complaints handling is one of many aspects of Britain's rail service where ORR has been working closely with the industry to improve the passenger experience. Other areas include overseeing the development of an industry 'code of practice' on providing accessible and accurate ticket information to passengers when they buy rail tickets; ensuring timely and reliable passenger information during disruptions, through an industry action plan; and driving industry transparency through publication of vital data on complaints, passenger journeys and train punctuality.

Stephanie Tobyn is ORR's consumer deputy director.

To learn more visit our Complaints page.