I was most delighted very recently to be invited to an excellent event that took place in central Birmingham, organised by an organisation that I have a very high regard for, none other than Transport Focus. I have watched with growing admiration the excellent work that they have done over the last few years in being the honest broker voice of the consumer, when it comes to the world of public transport and for me, the bus in particular.
They are a small but impressive team of committed people who have quite rightly carved a well deserved reputation as being the representative voice of bus, rail and now more recently road users. Thier brief has steadily increased to encompass not only the world of the bus and train user, but more recently the massive role of representing the road user, be that a car driver or indeed any other driver.
It is in my opinion vital that organisations like Transport Focus exist as they are the voice of the consumer. Each year they conduct surveys which are well prepared and comprehensive in their remit to get a real and honest view about what todays users really feel about the bus services that they make on a daily basis. What has been intriguing from a bus perspective is that the humble bus overall passenger satisfaction ratings are actually pretty good. Certainly and some may say surprisingly, when compared with other customer focused industries like retail and hospitality.
Over the years I have watched asTransport Focus has revealed the results of over 40,000 bus users who are asked a broad range of questions that cover all elements of their experience. Cost, value for money, reliability, punctuality,cleanliness, the attitude of the driver, marketing, branding, technology, access for the disabled, the list is long and thorough as it should be. The data is then processed and analysed and then shared. And this is the key thing for me Transport Focus is one of the very few independent bodies that tells the results like they are. And that also means telling the outside world including the national media that the bus industry score highly and in some cases very highly indeed with passengers scoring bus operators at 80% too plus 90% which is actually very good.
The facts are that because they are an independent body their neutrality is guaranteed, and that is why they carry so much weight and respect with the outside world. And yesterdays really well organised event was typical of just that. The launch was to reveal a really good bit of work that’s has been done across the UK with 14 to 17 year olds The largest bus users groups in the UK. I think it is fair to say that even though they are so important, overall they are radically under represented as a body of customers.
The results of the survey were revealing if not a bit surprising . As the biggest users of bus services they feel that bus services are not designed for them. There was also a concern about not knowing how the process of using the bus works, resulting in anxiety about using the service for fear of getting it wrong or being ridiculed.Fares was also a source of stress for many due to different products offered across the UK.
The event was well coordinated with representations from young people themselves, as well as examples of good practise around the UK of really good young peoples initiatives. Merseyside and West Yorkshire in particular have some great and good initiatives. Also Go Ahead in the North East gave excellent pointers as to what good practise looks like and how significant commercial benefits had been achieved by engaging with young people although it was a process that took a long time to achieve.
The importance of good WiFi was highlighted by many young people as being really important to them, as was the usage on google maps and journey planners and ticketing apps to make planning and buying an easier experience. Not surprisingly the attitude of the driver was also singled out as being of real importance when building young people’s confidence.
So, overall an excellent event, well organised with strong and very relevant presentations it was a real and honest eye opener for all. The key message waa simple, do not underestimate the value of young people and start to think about how better to engage and work with them to encourage them to think about the bus before the temptation to buy a car becomes an attractive option.