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Roads to Nowhere

Rail passengers are consumers, too

Andrew Allen's picture

Many rail users prefer being 'passengers' rather than 'customers', but do the railways protect you as a consumer? 

On 1st October, the Consumer Rights Act (CRA) came into force in the UK. Described by Which? as the biggest shakeup in consumer rights for a generation, the new rules should make it easier to get your money back when there’s substandard service or delays.  So why doesn’t  the Government want it applied to delayed trains? 

The DfT has just consulted on plans to explicitly exclude rail the parts of the CRA relating to delays. Their reasoning is that existing arrangements are up to the job, describing them as 'recognised and robust'. This is a very generous interpretation. For example, in 2013 research by Transport Focus found that almost three quarters of passengers didn't understand rail compensation arrangements and consequently only a tiny percentage claim money which is due to them. 

It is easy to see why passengers are confused. While the Conditions of Carriage provide some common standards across the industry, they are not widely known. Furthermore, each franchise operator also offers their own additional compensation arrangements. Some of these are better than others, but the overall picture is one of complexity with passengers not understanding their rights and not claiming what it due to them. 

Worse, around 60 per cent of delays are down to Network Rail, which pays compensation directly to train operators. With comparatively little being claimed by passengers, there is the ludicrous position where train operators take more money in from delays than they pay out. 

We need to see action to put all this right. For example: 

  • Agreed targets for an increased percentage of the compensation owed to passengers being paid out 
  • A single agreed set of compensation arrangements across all franchised passengers rail services, widely promoted by all operators
  • A timetable for automatic ‘delay-repay’ across the network – a few journeys already offer this (e.g. some West Coast journeys, and C2C from next year), but nearly 15 years after Oyster was introduced in London, the smart ticketing systems you need to do this properly are still a long way off

There is an urgent need to improve consistency and clarity on compensation for rail passengers. If the Government decides the CRA isn’t the right mechanism to do this, they need to set out how they will do it. 

 

Image courtesy of John Garghan.

 

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