You’re only as late as they think you are; why trains don’t always need to be on time

By Tim Sander

There is so much emphasis on punctuality in the rail sector that it is formally assessed by transport authorities as a measure of good performance. However, it is only ever measured as a pure assessment of a train operator's performance – it is never measured from the passenger perspective, which matters most. Why is this significant? As it turns out, the gap between actual train punctuality and perceived punctuality by rail passengers is immense.

This is one of the key 2018 findings from our annual Rail Reputation Index. One of the report’s components is a survey amongst 4,000 train users, conducted earlier this year in April / May (before the timetable changes).

Some of the poorest actual performers perceived as the best

Gatwick Express and Grand Central are two of the weakest performing train operators on ‘Right-time’, one of the official statistics that measure train punctuality amongst all train companies in Britain. However, when asking rail users about their experience with punctuality based on the train companies they have recently used, both Grand Central and Gatwick Express receive the highest ratings of all operators (on a scale of 0-10). How is that possible?

What makes perceived punctuality and how can it be influenced?

Perceived punctuality is all about the journey experience. How a train operator performs on more functional touch points affects passenger perceptions, including those of punctuality. Customer service and how informed passengers feel, for example, are key drivers of perceived punctuality. Out of all train operators in Britain, Grand Central and Gatwick Express record best-in-class scores in these areas – and passengers perceive them to be punctual, despite their relatively weak ‘Right-time’ scores. Emotional elements play less of a role in perception than operational ones, but that is not to say that they are not important; dependability and how customer-friendly an operator’s process is have considerable influence on perceived punctuality.

Using trains fairly frequently myself – for both business and leisure – I can only echo these findings. Smooth sailing when dealing with the train operator and on the actual journey, as well as being informed when things are not going as planned – allow passengers to easily overlook a delay. Of course, that is not to say that train punctuality is of little importance, but there is quite a bit more to the train journey than just arriving on time.

Want to know what else can influence passenger perception? Get in touch.

Blogs