‘Adopting a passengers’ perspective is essential for the shift to rail’

“Railway operators should work together more. If we get people out of the car and into the train, everyone will benefit”, says Delphine Grandsart, researcher at the European Passenger Federation (EPF). In this interview, she talks about the needs of passengers, through-ticketing, and the importance of a user-centered approach for achieving a shift to rail.

“Rail has a lot of strengths that are relevant to the future of mobility. It can handle large volumes of
people, it’s quite sustainable, energy-efficient and can be fast”, says Delphine Grandsart. However,
rail has not lived up to its full potential. For this to happen, actions and a change of attitude is needed for more
people to choose rail, she argues. The researcher has been working on mobility and public transport-

related projects for over 10 years, specialising in passenger rights, user behaviour and the needs of specific user groups, such as people with reduced mobility and elderly people.

Operators do not do enough, but it is also a matter of collaboration, says Grandsart. “Sometimes operators try to protect their own customers, but we can all win if everyone works closer together. If we can get people out of the car and into public transport, there would be a lot more passengers as a whole, which also benefits operators.”

Passenger needs central

There are two things that should be at the focus of attention, says Delphine Grandsart. Firstly, a more user-centred attitude is needed, starting from the passengers’ perspective instead of from the industry’s perspective. “For one thing this is really a way of thinking, and the end-user’s engagement should be ensured at all levels.” There are a lot of ways to involve passengers, such as performing more passenger satisfaction surveys, involving them in the development of new services from the beginning, and including different target groups, lists Grandsart. ”Some countries also have boards of passengers that give input when there is a new timetable or new rolling stock is being purchased.”

Secondly, rail is part of a complete system, part of a public transport network. It is important to see this as one whole, and not only look at one particular piece in it. “To enable seamless travel, it is important to look at the journey from door to door, so people can transfer between different transport modes smoothly. This also implies integrated information and ticketing possibilities.”

Make booking easier

One of the main reasons, especially in long-distance travel, for people to not choose rail is that there is often no or little information available, says Grandsart. It is complicated to look it up and people need to go to different operators with separate websites, and piece together their own journey and calculate transfer times. “It would be a lot easier if this existed in one place where all the information is combined.” The second step would be to also have multi-modal ticketing, so people can directly book as well, and it is a one-stop shop.

“In urban areas we already see more integrated ticketing, but we need this on longer travels as well”, says Grandsart. The prerequisite is that operators are willing to cooperate and share data and offer tickets through other sales channels. “With Mobility as a Service (MaaS), we see that everyone likes the idea, but there are not yet very well-developed business models to make it work, we will need more experience in it.” Running such a platform also has costs, which would come on top of the already often high price, but by making booking easier, more passengers will be attracted which in turn can lower the price.

Through-ticketing

The European Passenger Federation is also in favour of the idea of through-ticketing. This means that when several entitlements for different parts of a (multi-modal) journey need to be bought, in the end together they would constitute a single contract. “This guarantees more protection for passengers to arrive at their final destination”, says Grandsart. When there is no single contract, when someone misses the train because of delay of a previous leg of the trip they have to go through a complicated process of finding out which options there are for rerouting and rebooking, and risk to not get the price of their original ticket refunded.

Passengers board the SBB train with bicycles, source: SBB
Passengers board the SBB train with bicycles, source: SBB

Currently, passenger rights exist at EU-level for each mode independently, but there is no such thing for multi-modal travel. There are some improvements in regard to this, says Grandsart, but they are very slow. “The possibilities of multi-modal passenger rights is something that at EU level is being looked at, however, this is difficult because every mode has its own particularities. For example, if someone takes a metro to the airport and misses a flight due to metro delay, you cannot just say the metro company has to reimburse the flight ticket.”

The EPF does believe that through-ticketing is achievable: “For example if several travel service providers arrange mobility packages for example, as is the case with MaaS”, says Grandsart. This could include a guarantee that passengers are offered an alternative when part of their trip is cancelled or delayed.

Level playing field

The pricing and value for money is also a major aspect influencing travel choice, emphasises Grandsart, and rail is often not attractively priced. This can partly be improved by more competition in rail, according to the researcher. Also investing in greater cost-efficiency and having a more level playing field between modes are important. “Right now, aviation or the car benefit from tax exemptions and special rules. This really works against achieving more sustainable travel.”

The price of transport should reflect its real cost, and also include external costs such as impact on society, people’s health, congestion, pollution and air quality, and the mobility in cities, argues Grandsart. “If these aspects were taken in account, the price of various transport modes would be very different from what it is now. This really is a policy issue. A lot of offers in rail and public transport in general are covered by public service obligations, in that sense it should be possible to change the rules and to create more incentives for people to choose rail over other modes.”

Delphine Grandsart is one of the speakers at RailTech Europe 2021 from March 30 – 1 April. All operators, infrastructure managers, academics & policy makers can attend the event for free. Visit the website for more information. 

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Author: Esther Geerts

Editor of RailTech.com

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