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The Brown Review of the Rail Franchising Programme

It is likely that the rail industry as a whole will welcome the key recommendations contained in Richard Brown’s guide to rebooting the rail franchising programme (Commissioned after the cancellation of the Intercity West Coast franchise process and published by the DfT on 10 January 2013), in particular the need to:

  • quickly restart the franchising process for those that have been put on hold.
  • ensure that the franchising team is adequately resourced to avoid a recurrence of the ICWC debacle.
  • continue the policy to establish longer franchises, encouraging co-operative management and investment.

The longer term involvement of regional Transport Executives and reworking of risk mitigation (and the nature of the risks mitigated against) may be open to more debate, and those wanting a return to an OPRAF style independent body may be disappointed that this is only one of the options put forward (and clearly those hoping for renationalisation will find little to encourage them).

However, it is also encouraging to see that the report highlights the importance of passengers’ views in the letting and subsequent monitoring of the franchise programme.

Having project managed the set-up of the National Passenger Survey in 1999 (and ignoring the factual inaccuracy within the report that states its inception as 2004) it is a testament to the strength of the methodology we established that it can still be seen as core to the future monitoring of passengers’ views after this amount of time.

However, if the NPS is to play a key role in monitoring the performance of future franchises there are two key aspects that need to be borne in mind:

  • The NPS is a monitoring not a management tool, it cannot provide the granularity of data to identify why scores are changing or how to target resources to increase satisfaction.
  • Customer satisfaction data cannot, in isolation, be taken as directly reflecting performance, and changes to sampling and response profiles can distort findings.

As such, the continued use of NPS only goes to highlight the importance for all rail companies to conduct large scale customer satisfaction programmes and the need to provide evidence within bid documents that passengers’ views have been taken into account.

We also believe that an industry wide working group to monitor and interpret the NPS is long overdue and should be established to help ensure the interpretation of data is accurate and fair to all parties concerned. If the NPS is to be fully embraced by all stakeholders, it is vital that all relevant parties establish best practice use of this research data, identifying what can be seen as meaningful changes to performance as opposed to a simplistic reliance on statistical movements in recorded satisfaction.

Therefore the Brown Review not only provides an opportunity to re-examine the franchise process but also to ensure that the passengers’ voice is more accurately represented and listened to moving forward.

To read the report please click here

Steve King: Head of Customer Experience,  SPA Future Thinking

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