As Britain's rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road plays a vital role in improving the passenger experience in compensation, passenger information and accessibility.
The first half of this episode focuses on ORR's role in improving accessibility on the rail network by holding operators to account through Accessible Travel Policies, promoting accessibility and reducing barriers to travel.
We also look at how improvements are being made in passenger information, with all train operators agreeing to sign up to new information pledges for passengers.
We finish by taking a look at how ORR is improving access to delay compensation, and how it monitors train and station operators against the standards set out in a new licence condition that was introduced in April 2022.
Find out more about the ORR's passenger information work.
Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Host, Kenny Walker: Hello. I'm Kenny Walker and this is The Rail and Road Pod.
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Matt Westlake, Senior Manager, Accessibility and Delay Compensation: Of course, disabled passengers are always entitled to use turn up and go or unbooked assistance. But if they did want the added confidence from having booked it in advance, then we didn't think it was reasonable to expect them to have to give a full day's notice. We used our ATP guidance to set a stage reduction of this notice period from 24 hours down to 10:00 PM the night before and then down to six hours’ notice and finally down to two hours’ notice from the 1st of April this year.
Nick Layt, Passenger Information Manager: We're hoping that the Smarter Information Programme will deliver a step-change in the provision of passenger information and also lay the ground for an ongoing program of continuous improvement. In fact, we've formally accepted those pledges as regulatory commitments, and we'll be holding operators to account for delivery.
Matt Westlake: We've got new licence requirements on train companies, which refer to a code of practice with lots of standards and best practice laid out which require the train companies to provide passengers with clear information.
Clear and accurate information must be provided to passengers on their rights to claim delay compensation, and that's during the booking stage, online and in stations, for example, and then also during the journey and afterwards.
Voiceover: You’re listening to the Rail and Road Pod brought to you by the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road.
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Kenny Walker: We're back after a short break and what's been a busy few months for ORR. With the final authorisations of trains, stations and infrastructure being approved for London's Elizabeth line prior to it officially opening to passengers on the 24th of May, a prosecution was launched over the Sandilands tram crash. New guidance and level-crossing orders was issued to further improve safety, the 2022/23 business plan was launched.
On roads, ORR's approach to scrutinising National Highways' plans for the next five-year road period was announced.
Also, a new mini-series of nine short videos was recently launched, showcasing who ORR are and what it does. You can see the first of these on our social media channels @RailandRoad on Twitter and via our YouTube channel. So look out for more of those being published over the coming weeks.
The focus of this episode, our 13th episode, is to take a closer look at some of the work ORR's consumer team does, some of which goes unseen but it’s something every rail passenger comes into contact with every time they buy a ticket, every time they look for information when planning their journey, or when checking at the station when their train is arriving.
Also, should they need assistance to travel, either booked or unbooked, or should something go wrong, make a complaint, and of course, claim for compensation should a journey be delayed or are cancelled, are all work that ORR is doing in the background.
Kenny: To discuss some of this work, I'm joined by Matt Westlake, Senior Manager, Accessibility and Delay Compensation, and also Nick Layt, Passenger Information Manager.
Kenny: Our first stop is accessibility. Under its consumer remit, ORR's vision is to empower confident use of the railway by all. A big part of this is the approval of train operator policies for disabled passengers that aim to promote accessibility and aim to eliminate discrimination. So let's bring in Matt. Matt, first off, tell us what is included in these policies?
Matt: Thanks Kenny, train and station operators are required under their licences to establish and comply with an accessible travel policy or ATP, which we must then check and approve. This ATP document basically sets out what the company will do to help disabled people, so what passengers can expect to receive, and standards that ORR will then hold them to. We set out what operators have to include in these ATPs, and this covers things like training where all new and frontline staff must be trained in things like the relevant accessibility law and how to safely provide assistance to wheelchair users that need ramps.
And another thing that ATPs must include is a clear description of booked assistance journeys so how passengers can book and what they can expect in terms of information and assistance ahead of their journey, at the station and on board the train and what the train company will do if there are delays of disruption.
Kenny: You mentioned how passengers can book. Recently ORR announced that from the 1st of April 2022 passengers won’t need to give more than two hours' notice when booking passenger assistance. Can you explain what this means in reality, and what the notice period was previously?
Matt: As recently as 2019, if passengers wanted to book assistance, then they had to give 24 hours' notice. We didn't really think that this was good enough, really, in this day and age when systems are automated and it's much easier for booking offices and call centres to communicate with frontline staff. Of course, disabled passengers are always entitled to use turn up and go or unbooked assistance.
But if they did want the added confidence from having booked in advance, then we didn't think it was reasonable to expect them to have to give a full day's notice. We used our ATP guidance to set a staged reduction of this notice period from 24 hours down to 10:00 PM the night before and then down to six hours’ notice and finally down to two hours’ notice from the 1st of April this year.
This two-hour notice period also applies for the first train of the day, meaning that if you wanted to book assistance for the first train to say, for example, Stansted Airport or from Birmingham to Manchester, then passengers need to be able to book that assistance for that journey up until half past three in the morning or in the night more like.
This obviously presented a bit of a challenge for the industry in terms of having people available to take that booking and to communicate it to the train companies. We've been pleased with the concerted efforts that they've made to find a common shared solution on this. The new notice period came into effect on the 1st of April and so far it's been operating without any major hitches.
Kenny: That's good to hear that things are going smoothly so far. Just on the final question on accessibility. We know not all stations are brand new, fully accessible stations. A lot of stations are old, some very old and don't necessarily have things like lifts or ramps or accessible toilets even. How do I know if the station I'm travelling to is accessible?
Matt: It's a good question, Kenny. As you say, if the network was built yesterday, then you could travel in this expectation. You'd be able to get the pavement outside down to the platform without a hitch, but obviously, that's not the case. Away from the biggest stations, there's still a fairly mixed picture in terms of accessible platforms and bridges and toilets, and the likes.
If something's not accessible and the next most important thing is obviously that passengers can find this out and don't turn up on a train and find that they can't get off the platform, for example. We set the expectation that operators have to provide this information via station information documents that you can access online, and we've stationed specific information on the National Rail Enquiries website too.
We recently audited this published information, checking what the operators were saying, and what was published out there, with what we found on the ground at a sample of stations for all train companies, and to be honest, it was a bit of a mixed picture. We've written to them recently asking them to put their houses in order and to respond to us letting us know what's changed and we've recently been going through these responses, we'll be following up with the operators bilaterally, where we've still got concerns.
Kenny: Thanks, Matt. Yes, hopefully, the houses will be put in order and as you say, very soon. Thanks, Matt. Let's turn our attention now to the area of passenger information and speak to Nick. Nick, tell us a wee bit about your role and the work you do.
Nick: Thanks, Kenny. My name is Nick Layt and I monitor compliance with the passenger information licence condition as part of the consumer team here at ORR. We focus on the passenger experience aiming to build confidence in travelling by rail. In practice, we do that by holding train and station operators to account. Passenger train and station operators have an operating licence and in 2012, we introduced a condition to drive improvements in the provision of passenger information.
We want passengers to have a great experience at every stage of their journey from planning it and booking a ticket through to travelling, including when there's disruption, and redress when things go wrong.
Kenny: What do you see as the key benefits of the Smarter Information Programme and what it aims to achieve for rail customers?
Nick: In 2019, ORR set the industry the challenge of working together to deliver tangible and enduring network-wide improvements to the provision of passenger information. This led to Network Rail and the Rail Delivery Group setting up the Smarter Information, Smarter Journeys programme.
At the time, we were concerned that there was no strategy to deliver improvements, no agreed understanding of what it good looked like and little customisation for the needs of different customer groups.
We wanted a single joined-up strategy that would deliver a consistent experience across the network and drive innovation, embracing new technology. We're hoping that the Smarter Information Programme will deliver a step-change in the provision of passenger information and also lay the ground for an ongoing program of continuous improvement.
Kenny: A lot going on, but what do you see are the biggest challenges, Nick, to realising these benefits?
Nick: It's a tricky programme. The success of the smarter information programme depends on the industry working together to identify issues, agree priorities and deliver solutions. That's a challenging thing for any programme and the pandemic has created new pressures. It's been good to see the level of participation in the RDG work packages and to see shared decisions being made in the passenger interest. We hope to see this momentum maintained as rail reform progresses.
Kenny: Okay. This isn't something that's just started the last couple of months, obviously, work has been ongoing. What would you say, are the key achievements within the space of improved customer information to date, and why?
Nick: There are good things happening across the breadth of the Smarter Information Programme. We've particularly welcomed the launch of the customer information pledges, which set the benchmark for good practice for what passengers can expect before, during and after their journey, and place the focus firmly on the passenger perspective. In fact, we've formally accepted those pledges as regulatory commitments, and we'll be holding operators to account for delivery.
Kenny: Let me flip this one back to you, Nick, as a rail customer, what would the one piece of innovation you would like to see in the rail industry and why?
Nick: I regularly travel from Sussex up to our office here in Canary Wharf. I use the same trains each time but despite that all the apps and the alerts that are available, there doesn't seem to be one that will really deliver me information for the whole of my journey and even more importantly, alert me if something goes wrong before I start to travel. I know I can get alerts for individual legs, but my journey has multiple legs, and the apps don't just seem to be able to cope with that.
Kenny: It's clear to see that obviously a lot of work is going on over the past few years in bringing about these improvements for passengers so long may it continue.
That brings us to the last area we would like to discuss on this pod, and that is compensation and what happens when things go wrong. How do passengers go about claiming some redress for a delayed or a cancelled journey? Something I'm sure every passenger wants to know, and I know from the 1st of April, ORR stated passengers whose real journeys are delayed now have an improved process for claiming compensation. Let's go back to Matt. Matt, tell us what has improved.
Matt: Since the 1st of April, as you say, we've got new licence requirements on train companies, which refer to a code of practice with lots of standards and best practice laid out which require the train companies to provide passengers with clear information, both before and during their journey about their entitlements to compensation when there are delays. Amongst other things, we also set requirements for clear and simple claim processes.
Kenny: There's clearly been an issue, hence why the work's been done for people making a claim. Do you know actually how many people who are eligible to make a claim actually do so?
Matt: Yes. ORR has established in evidence based in this area, which DFT has since updated. In 2019 to '20, for example, only 37% of passengers eligible for compensation actually made a claim. That figure hasn't really improved much over recent years. The low claim uptake we think is caused by many passengers not knowing when they're eligible to claim, and in some cases they're often deterred by complex claim processes.
Kenny: Let's look at an example. For instance, let's say I've just arrived at Glasgow Queen Street Station to travel to Edinburgh. I've planned ahead, I've booked my tickets and I've got the station and the information board tells me my train's been delayed due to signalling fault. As a paying customer, what should I expect?
Matt: Clear and accurate information must be provided to passengers on their rights to claim delay compensation, and that's during the booking stage, online and in stations, for example, and then also during the journey and afterwards. For ScotRail, as in this case, if you're delayed by between half an hour and an hour, then you're entitled to 50% of the cost of your single ticket, or if it's a return then 25%. If you get an email with your booking notification, then it should include a link to the delay compensation webpage for that operator.
Then if there is a delay, then train companies must inform passengers via in-train or on platform announcements and electronic notifications of their right to claim. Where there's widespread disruption, then we'd expect to see train companies making appropriate use of social media via Twitter or Facebook to let passengers know.
The next big bit of this is that simplified claims processes must be in place to make it easy for passengers to submit compensation claims for delays. Which? published a study a couple of years back showing up for some train companies, passengers were being asked to provide unnecessary information as part of that claim, which obviously makes the process more time consuming and complex, and it makes it easier to get things wrong and your claim to be turned back in that case.
We set out clear requirements in this area, and we're pleased to see that the industry has been working towards a single standardised claim form that's easy to use and that only asks for information that's necessary for the claim in question. Train companies will also have 20 working days to process claims and they will be reporting to us against that metric. Then lastly, if a claim is rejected, then operators must give passengers clear justification for why and details about how the passenger can go about contesting that.
Kenny: Thanks, Matt. There you have it, if your journey's delayed and hopefully you know what to expect and how to go about making a claim with your train company. That brings to a close another episode of The Rail Road Pod.
Kenny: If you want any further details on ORR's consumer work visit ORR's website orr.gov.uk, and also look out for ORR's annual rail consumer report being published early July.
That focuses on how train operators across Britain have performed over the past 12 months, and provides a look forward to what's next for ORR's consumer team in the year ahead. That's all for now. Thanks for listening. Goodbye.