Passenger Charter Performance

The Passengers’ Charter establishes two performance standards based on the following criteria:

  • Punctuality – the percentage of peak hour trains arriving within 5 minutes of their advertised arrival time (‘Peak’ times are arrivals in London between 7.00 am and 9.59 am, and departures form London between 4.00 pm and 6.59 pm.)
  • Reliability – the percentage of the advertised train service actually operated.

Separate targets and thresholds have been established for Mainline and Metro services. Continue reading

Fare Increase 2012

This year’s increase in the cost of a standard class annual season ticket to London was 5.8%, slightly below the average permitted under the ‘RPI + 1 percentage point’ formula which applies following the concession announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. Last year the increase was 7 percentage points higher than the inflation rate! Continue reading

Sevenoaks Station Upgrade

Sevenoaks Station will be upgraded during 2012.  The text of the Network Rail press release describing the improvements is reproduced below, along with an artist’s impressions of the upgraded building.

Network Rail Press Release  24/10/2011 10:00

SEVENOAKS STATION UPGRADE PLANS REVEALED

Network Rail and Southeastern have released details of a major upgrade for Sevenoaks station which will provide modern facilities and better journeys for passengers.

The upgrade, which is being funded through the government’s national stations improvement programme and Southeastern’s refurbishment programme, includes:

– Extending the existing concourse to make it easier to move around for passengers, particularly at the busiest times of the day. This will include installing a wider doorway.

– Renovating the toilets

– Upgrading customer information screens

– New DDA compliant ticket office

– Providing new retail facilities

– Refurbishing the overbridge and stairs to the platforms, plus the staircase to the season ticket holder’s car park

– Extending motorcycle parking and installing double-decker racks to boost bike parking.

– Replacing waiting shelters on platforms 1/2 and 3/4.

Mike Smith, Network Rail’s route enhancement manager for Kent, said: “As well as providing a safe, punctual and reliable train service we must give passengers a better journey experience. The upgrade of Sevenoaks station is a big step forward and will make a big difference for the community and businesses in the town who use the railway for thousands of journeys every day.”

A Southeastern spokesman added: “Providing our passengers with a safe and comfortable environment is important to us. The station is the gateway to Sevenoaks for many and provides the first impression of the town. If we can provide a positive experience then this will help both the community and businesses in the town. We will work together with Network Rail to ensure that we deliver this project with minimal disruption to our passengers.”

The station will remain open to passengers throughout the construction although, passengers will need to use the temporary facilities during some phases of the work.

Details of these temporary facilities are being finalised and will be shared with passengers in advance of work starting.

Preparatory work is expected to start in December 2011, with main construction starting in early 2012. All work is scheduled for completion by Summer 2012.

Views of upgraded Sevenoaks Station

Overcrowding

Passenger surveys show that apart from ‘dealing with delays’, and ‘value for money’ (which is probably in part linked to over-crowding), insufficient room to sit or even stand is the biggest sources of passenger dissatisfaction with the train service. As an article in the Sevenoaks Chronicle demonstrated, the inadequacy of seating, often arising from inexplicably short trains, remains a real frustration. The situation is not helped by reports that the Department of Transport (DfT) is intent on defining away the problem by relaxing its standards.

The allowance for standing room is typically 35% of the number of seats based on 0.45m2 per person. For Southeastern’s class 376 Metro stock the standard is 0.35m2 per person.

‘Passengers in Excess of Capacity’ (or ‘PiXC’) is an overcrowding indicator established and monitored by the DfT. Under the franchise agreements between the DfT and the train operating company (TOC), the operator had an obligation to produce a Train Plan to demonstrate that it was planning its timetable and allocating rolling stock in a way that best reconciled its available capacity with passenger demand to keep overcrowding to a minimum.

The standards set by DfT for PiXC were for loadings of no more than 4.5% above capacity for any one peak and no more than 3% above capacity across both peaks. No penalties were levied on operators which failed to meet these standards, however. The DfT now sets a variety of performance targets for individual TOCs.

The DfT is currently considering how best to measure crowding for future franchises.

How is PiXC measured?

The PiXC measure was applied to trains arriving in London between 7.00 am and 9.59 am and then again for trains departing from London between 4.00 pm and 6.59 pm.

For journeys of more than 20 minutes, which should have covered all commutes using mainline services from Sevenoaks to London, capacity was defined as the number of standard class seats. For journeys of 20 minutes or shorter, an allowance for ‘normal’ standing room of around 35% of the number of seats (the exact figure depended on the type of train) was also added.

Source: Peak crowding and passenger demand” Autumn 2010, Office of Rail Regulation, August 2011 and earlier National Rail Trends Reports.

Overcrowding at an acceptable level?

The chart above compares actual conditions for Southeastern’s services with the standards. (Annual observations below the broader dashed lines indicate that the standard has been met.)

As well as there being a trend improvement, the overcrowding data appear to reflect the economic cycle. The data for 2010 also reflect the introduction of HS 1 services.

Until 2005, separate data were provided for Outer Kent (i.e. Mainline) and Inner Kent (Metro) services and in 2005 the Outer Kent morning peak figure (most relevant for Sevenoaks commuters) was in breach of the 4.25% standard. Unfortunately, these separate figures are no longer published. The Outer Kent data would have enabled us to track the impact of HS1 on the loading of Kent Mainline services.

We remain sceptical of the way the data is compiled. For example, if a mainline train stops at Chelsfield, it is deemed to fall into the ’20 minutes or less’, ‘Inner Kent’ category, so its assumed capacity was increased by around a third because of the addition of the ‘acceptable’ level of standing room factor. In our view this treatment biased the results.

Comparisons with other TOCs

According to the latest data, Southeastern’s PIXC figures compare very favourably with those of other operators (including Govia’s neighbouring franchise, Southern) –

Fare support and subsidies

Publication of the July 2011 figure for the RPI – which is the basis for regulated fare increases that take effect from January 2012 – has once again highlighted the impact of government policy on the cost of rail travel.  Last year, Southeastern raised average fares by RPI + 3 percentage point. However, this average applied to both Mainline and Metro services combined.  In fact as Metro services were subject to a RPI +2 percentage point formula, Southeastern raised average fares by much more on most Mainline services, some by as much as RPI plus 8 percentage points.

The current approach to fare-setting

Train Operating Companies (TOCs), such as Southeastern, are permitted to raise their regulated ‘farebox’ by RPI + 3 percentage points (about 8% from January 2012).  However, the increase does not apply to actual revenue but to expected or ‘bid’ revenue (projected ‘real’ revenue agreed at the time the franchise was granted. adjusted for cumulative inflation since the beginning of the franchise).  When – as in Southeastern’s case – actual revenue is below expected revenue, TOCs are entitled to recoup a proportion of the shortfall by raising fares by even more than 8% provided no individual regulated fare is increased by more than a further 5 percentage points, or about 13% in total.  The remainder of the shortfall is paid to the TOC by the government through a revenue ‘support’ payment.  Southeastern became eligible for revenue support from April 2010 and currently expect to continue to receive support payments (and to charge additional fare increases) for the remainder of their franchise which expires in 2014.

The formula for determining support payments is agreed with individual TOCs.  In Southeastern’s case, a support payment is received (or in the case where actual revenue exceeds expected revenue, a ‘share’ payment is made – the arrangement is symmetric) according to the following –

For small deviations (up to ± 2%) no support or share payments are made.  Where there is a divergence of between ± 2-6%, the shortfall or excess is shared equally.  For shortfalls or excesses of more than 6%, the government contributes or shares 80%.  In its Half-Year Report, 1 January 2011, Go-Ahead, the majority owner of Southeastern, refers to Southeastern as “being in 80% revenue support with Government since April 2010 and is assumed to remain in revenue support until the franchise ends in March 2014”.  This implies that it expects Southeastern’s actual revenues to be at least 6% lower than bid revenues in each year for the remainder of the franchise.

The chart below shows the relationship between the percentage shortfall (or excess) and contribution made (or received) by the government.

If, for example, the shortfall or excess is 10% in total, the government contributes 52% leaving the TOC to recoup the remaining 48% through additional fare increases (or, in the case of a revenue excess, pays 52% of the excess to the government).

An example (provided by Go-Ahead) of how share and support payments might develop over a franchise is given in the chart below.

The blue line shows how revenue is expected to grow over the 6 years of the franchise (from £100 to £125).  In the second year revenues prove to be more buoyant than expected (£108 as against an expected £105).  Of this 2.9% excess, 2 percentage points is ignored and the remaining 0.9 % is shared 50:50 by the TOC and the government so the TOC pays over £0.45.  After year 2, actual revenue grows more slowly than expected.  By year 4 there is a shortfall of actual relative to bid revenue but this is not large enough to trigger a support payment.  However, the shortfalls in years 5 and 6 are each sufficiently large to entitle the TOC to a payment.  In year 5, actual revenue is £115 as against expected revenue of £120.  This £5 (4.2%) shortfall attracts a support payment of £1.3 or 26% of the total shortfall.  In year 6, an overall shortfall of £9 (expected revenue is £125 but actual revenue is only £116) triggers a payment to the TOC of £3.7, or just over 41% of the total shortfall.  In those years the TOC would be permitted to recoup the remaining shortfall through higher fares.

The support / sharing mechanism may not apply automatically each year.  For example, during the early years of a franchise, the TOC may be required to bear all the revenue risk.  In the case of Southern – whose franchise runs from September 2009 until July 2015 (but at the discretion of the Department for Transport may be extended a further 2 years) – eligibility for support payments only begins in September 2013, 4 years into the franchise.

The support sharing mechanism is independent of the schedule of annual subsidy received / premium payments agreed with a TOC when a franchise is awarded.  The chart below shows the contrasting positions of Southeastern and Southern.  The former is in receipt of a (steadily diminishing) subsidy turning into a premium payment in 2014.  Southern made a small premium payment in 2010 (premiums paid in earlier years have been much higher) but payments in future years will be significantly higher.

However, while the calculations of subsidies and revenue support may be independently calculated, the overall net payment made by the Government to (or received from) the TOCs will reflect a combination of subsidies (or premiums) and of revenue support payments (or share payments) arising from the divergence of actual fare revenue.

Unfairness

Rail passengers are currently caught in what can only be described as a stealth tax trap.  With actual revenues likely to continue to fall short of bid revenues for several years to come, they are being asked to make up a big share of the difference through fare increases which for many will be well  in excess of what most will understand by the “RPI + 3 pp” formula.  It is as if they were being asked to pay VAT not on what they have actually spent but on what they would have spent had there been no recession.  Moreover, unlike VAT (or other taxes) the “tax base” will not be at all obvious to the passenger/ taxpayer given the complexity of the calculation and the absence of sufficient public information needed to verify it.  In other words, it offends most of the main precepts of a good tax system that would normally expect to be needed to win the consent of the taxpayer.

Action that is needed

The SRTA believes –

  • That with bid revenue profiles now largely invalidated by the unexpected severity of the recession, all TOCs should be required to reassess their estimates of prospective passenger revenues over the remainder of their franchise and replace these with a more realistic profile. It is unacceptable that fare increases should continue to be based year after year on revenue projections that, through no one’s fault, have entered the world of never-never land.
  • With reassessed bid revenues then bearing more relation to reality, divergences between actual and bid revenue would be reduced and as a result fare increases would correspond more closely to an RPI +3 pp formula which would be more likely to approximate actual revenues rather than some now unachievable target made to win a franchise several years previously. It should be emphasised that ‘RPI +3pp’ applied more closely to actual revenue would still represent a significant increase in real fares and so a contribution to the costs of new rail investment and/or a continuing reduction in taxpayer support for commuting.
  • The process of re-estimation should be transparent so that rail users can have confidence in the calculations. Too often in the past legitimate enquiries about monopoly suppliers’ operations and performance are fobbed off by the DfT , ORR or by the TOCs themselves as being “commercially confidential”. If a TOC wins a monopoly position, it should expect much closer and more public scrutiny of its operations than if it were operating in a competitive uncontrolled market. Only then will public confidence in its activities be fostered and maintained.