How ORR is helping rail passengers during Covid-19

20 May 2020

By Stephanie Tobyn, Deputy Director for Consumers.

Stephanie TobynWith passengers being encouraged to only take the train if there’s no alternative way to travel, you might be surprised to know that our consumer team are as busy as ever.

The Covid-19 outbreak has brought unparalleled challenges for train operators and impacted their ability to continue to meet regulatory requirements.

Many have had to move staff from call centres to home working (or significantly reduce resource in call centres due to social distancing), all while facing an unprecedented and rapid increase in the number of claims for ticket refunds.

This has led to unforeseen challenges in both ORR’s and train operators working arrangements and significant reprioritisation of resources.

An ever-evolving situation

On the railway, things have changed fast and new issues are frequently arising such as the requirements for key workers, changes to train timetables and not least how crowding and social distancing will work on trains, at stations and at interchanges.

In such a unique environment for us all, train operators must be commended for how they have been able to adjust accordingly and in turn, we are in continuous contact with each train operator to understand the issues they’re facing as situations develop and how they plan to address them.

A pragmatic approach

We are being reasonable and pragmatic during this time, but we have also made it clear operators must ensure that meeting passengers’ needs remains at the forefront of their thinking.

Our discussions on key consumer areas; accessibility, complaints handling, ticket retailing, and passenger information are guided by this but I am pleased that train operators are working constructively with us across all areas.

The 18 May timetable change was a key focus over the last week, with a potential increase in the number of passengers travelling with social distancing measures in place. It is vitally important for passengers to know how and when they can travel and that advice about their services is clear and up to date.

We have carried out daily reviews of train operators’ websites, including the overriding message, prominence of information, frequency of updates and advice for passengers on things like providing assistance. We have shared and discussed our assessment with operators, who have been responsive and engaged in making improvements.

Our advice to passengers

We have also published travel advice to passengers regarding their journey as well as what they can do to get money back on their unused train tickets.

We keep this advice updated to ensure it remains current with government advice on using public transport and to show the extended time-period to 56 days from 17 March or the latest travel date for claiming season ticket refunds.

And we have worked with third party retailers to ensure that their messaging to passengers on tickets is equally clear and consistent.

Now is a challenging time for everyone yet it is important to try to remain on a business as usual footing and to ensure passengers needs are not forgotten. We continue working closely with operators to progress important improvements in passenger information as well as finalising our Accessible Travel Policy guidance regarding rail replacement services.

We have published today our letter to train operators setting out more detail on our approach to meeting their regulatory requirements at this uncertain and challenging time.