Everyone that has used a train is likely to have been stopped in their tracks by the sudden announcement of a delay. Though we all know delays can be impossible to avoid, they still get us all hot and bothered. So, unsurprisingly, many passengers who get delayed feel they are owed compensation. This week SmartRail World’s Sarah Wright, who has faced her share of delays, takes a look into how this topic has come under the limelight recently. Exploring why delay repay, automatic compensation or the lack of compensation altogether has become the theme of articles, consumer group complaints and rail operators press releases.
Back in February SmartRail World reported on the announcement of c2c’s plans to refund their passengers for delays of two minutes or more on journeys made between London and Essex. This scheme made c2c the first UK operator to offer repayments for such short period of time. Most only offer compensation after half an hour, and some only offer compensation after one hour. But, if your c2c train is delayed for just two minutes, then you are entitled to compensation, which if you have a registered c2c smartcard will be given automatically. For c2c passengers, each 2 minutes delay is worth 3p in compensation (roughly 4 cents in Euros and Dollars). Though this seems like a small amount, what it represents is much larger and is a way of showing passengers that their time and custom is important to the rail line.
Only one month after c2c announced their delay repay scheme, the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) ordered railways to take action and communicate with their passengers in “plain English” about compensation for delayed journeys. ORR accepted that most operators offer compensation to passengers who have faced delays of thirty minutes or longer, but found that very few passengers knew about this. In fact, most staff were not even aware of the parameters of claiming compensation for delayed journeys, suggesting that there is a flaw in the system. ORR’s demand came not only after c2c’s user friendly repayment scheme was announced but followed a survey carried out by Which? – UK consumer group – in December 2015.
Which? found that roughly 47 million journeys a year are delayed or cancelled altogether. In the survey of 7,000 people they found that only 34% of those entitled to compensation claimed it, which explains ORR’s concerns and why operators are now talking, a bit more about their repayment systems. Richard Lloyd, Executive Director of Which?, has said “Millions of passengers are left out of pocket each year, so train companies must do more to put their passengers first and make rail refunds easier.”
OOR and Which? have argued that unless things are made clearer passengers will still be at a loss. On their website, ‘Which?’ have compiled and easy to use table, showing customers who they can claim compensation from and how. Virgin, c2c, Abellio Greater Anglia, East Midland, Sothern, Great Northern and TFL are just a few of the operators that have signed up to delay repay schemes. Yet many passengers remain unaware of this, and the issue of informing passengers about the schemes on offer remains.
Suggestions have been made that if operators began to shout about their compensation schemes, especially at the time of the delay, used poster campaigns, trained staff about policies or even used social media to encourage people to claim back, then the problem would be solved. But, compensation is costly. Virgin have estimated that their delay repay scheme, begun in October 2015, will cost them £2.8 million in its first year, so perhaps it is unsurprising that they don’t shout and scream about it.
Managing director of c2c, Julian Drury, spoke about their scheme saying “We know passengers want to be able to claim their money back when delayed easily and simply. At c2c we are proud to be the first train operator in the country to offer this automatic compensation to daily commuters.” Rightfully, c2c are proud of their scheme, which will make a big difference to hundreds of passengers, and Drury hits the nail on the head by recognising that the answer is to make things easy and simple. Clearly, this topic is important, but for anything to change both the passenger and operator need to take action.
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