Survey sees 84% satisfaction, though room for improvement is required

Solo SR hybrid interior view
The last year has seen some improvement in the quality of rolling stock on Greater Manchester’s buses, some of which reflected in the latest Passenger Focus survey. Seen here is the interior of an electric hybrid Solo SR, owned by Transport for Greater Manchester and operated by First Pioneer on the 41 route from Dukinfield [Tennyson Avenue] to Ashton-under-Lyne and Crowhill estate.
Out of a survey conducted by Passenger Focus involving 664 bus users in the Transport for Greater Manchester area, 84% of them were either ‘very satisfied’ or ‘fairly satisfied’ with their journeys. Though the figures may be encouraging for TfGM and Greater Manchester’s bus operators, there is still room for improvement, particularly in customer service and value for money. The average satisfaction rate among PTE areas is 85%, with TfGM boundary bus users amassing a slightly lower than average score.

Of the two operators which make up former GM Buses territory, Stagecoach in Manchester won hands down, with a 20% gap over First in Greater Manchester on value for money, and a 21% headway over them in timekeeping. Its 78% punctuality rate was the highest figure for a private sector operator, with only Reading Bus’ and Nottingham City Transport’s municipally owned operations surpassing them. Throughout England, the Stagecoach Group’s operations came out on top in terms of passenger satisfaction, value for money, punctuality and journey time.

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Everybody’s Happy Nowadays? Greater Manchester’s results analysed

1. Overall Satisfaction

Overall satisfaction levels among Greater Manchester’s bus passengers saw little change on the 2011 results, with some dissatisfaction expressed by passengers with free passes or a disability. Even so, free pass holders recorded a satisfaction rate of 85% (-8%), where passengers with a disability recorded an 78% (-9%) rate of satisfaction. Most satisfied were passengers 35 to 59 years of age and non-commuters.

2. Value for Money

Greater Manchester’s bus fares have historically been higher than most of the UK outside of London. Only passengers aged 35 to 59 had similar levels of satisfaction to the 2011 survey at 65%. Most critical were passengers between 16 and 34 years of age which saw satisfaction drop by 9% from 56% in 2011 to 47% this year. Persons within the 16 to 34 age range during the survey were more likely to have lower incomes and be affected most by unemployment.

3. Punctuality

Perhaps Greater Manchester’s bus users were understanding about the disruption caused to their journey by roadworks (including Metrolink construction works), football traffic and bad weather as well as the school run. All people polled recorded a satisfaction rating of 70% for punctuality.

4. Journey Times

As a result of the roadworks and the traffic clogged nature of our city region, journey times could be open to criticism if they are, 1) a direct route snarled up by traffic; or 2) a convoluted route which takes as long as the direct equivalent whilst held up in traffic. Passengers recorded a satisfaction rating of 82% in this new category.

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‘…Picking You Up Like We Always Do…’: The Journey Experience Itself

Customer satisfaction on Greater Manchester’s buses goes beyond the 84% overall figure. It also includes the whole experience from the walk to your bus stop, driving abilities, and as to whether one seat has a different moquette trim to several others.

It is reassuring to find that passengers saw some improvement in TfGM’s bus stops compared with 2011. Today’s bus stops have clearer information boards, though there are still too few stops which have a timetable and/or shelter. Since 2008, most of the 1970s origin Queensbury shelters have been replaced by the more durable Trueform shelters. Most of the oldest shelters in TfGM’s boundary date from the early 1990s and constructed to JC Decaux’s designs (in glass or acrylic). Unlike West Yorkshire and some Shire Counties, real time information boards detailing bus times are seemingly light years away. Standard of maintenance was a concern, particularly through vandalism and squeezed public sector budgets.

On board satisfaction saw some improvement or little change from the previous survey’s results. Satisfaction with front and side indicator information rose from 82% to 84%, most of which enhanced by digital technology. Up one percentage to 71% was satisfaction with the bus’ cleanliness, which was the third weakest statistic. Information provided inside the bus (by means of notices about service changes, fares revisions and the promotion of other routes) amassed 57%.

Some 76% of people were generally satisfied with the external condition of their bus. In the last five years, Greater Manchester’s fleet has seen some modernisation with the launch of hybrid buses on trunk routes and some subsidised routes (like the 41 and 386). Even so, some parts of the TfGM boundary – particularly Tameside, parts of Oldham and Wigan – are dominated by buses over 10 years old. Though 2008 Volvo B9TLs rule the roost on the 348 and 350 routes, they are sometimes augmented by 1998 Dennis Arrows or 1999 Volvo Olympians. Some journeys on the 346 are operated with – though low floor – 16 year old Dennis Dart SLFs.

Though most passengers were happy with the state of their bus, some felt let down by the most important part of their journey experience. Their first point of contact prior to tendering a fare or renewing a season ticket. The bus driver. Helpfulness and attitude of the driver was deemed a main bone of contention among the 664 people surveyed. 58% were satisfied by the greeting he or she received from their driver, with 62% for his or her attitude towards them.

Singled out for most negative criticism was the smoothness of their journey. This trope seldom rests with the driver and could be indicative of the company’s maintenance procedures, the design of the bus itself, or the state of the roads (potholes and speed bumps spring to mind). Another trope regarded the time taken to take your position aboard the bus itself, with some 14% dissatisfied (compared with 68% being satisfied).

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Though Greater Manchester’s bus operations have seen a period of consolidation in the last five years, there is still a long way to go till we reach the high standards of Greater Manchester Transport set 27 years ago, let most European cities and London. The outlook seems positive with Stagecoach Manchester and Transport for Greater Manchester investing in hybrid vehicles, and the possibility of greater transport powers for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. In the last year, First in Greater Manchester has introduced a new livery and modernised its fleet. On the other hand, independent operators have found it difficult to cope with the collective spending power and market share of FirstGroup, Stagecoach and Arriva.

Even so, there is room for improvement: fleets require modernisation in some areas such as Tameside; real time information is needed at Transport for Greater Manchester’s bus stations and prominent bus stops. Amid the razzle dazzle of real time information and online timetables, Greater Manchester’s bus users still like to pick up a paper version of their desired route’s timetable and see a friendly face behind the wheel. The latter cannot be replaced by HTML5, PHP, Twitter, Facebook, Marvin the Paranoid Android or Metal Mickey.

Before you pore over the results in great detail, please keep in mind that 664 is a small cohort out of the 200 million or so people who catch a bus in Greater Manchester each year. It is still a greater percentage than 1,002 people out of 48 million voters for a YouGov poll though.

More to the point, what do you make of the results? Do they more or less reflect the opinions of Greater Manchester’s bus passengers? Feel free to comment.

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Appendix A: By PTE area:

1. Overall Satisfaction Scores:

  • Merseytravel: 87%;
  • NEXUS: 87%;
  • Metro West Yorkshire: 85%;
  • Transport for Greater Manchester: 84%;
  • Travel South Yorkshire: 83%;
  • Centro West Midlands: 79%.

2. Value For Money:

  • NEXUS: 59%;
  • Travel South Yorkshire: 59%;
  • Metro West Yorkshire: 55%;
  • Merseytravel: 55%;
  • Transport for Greater Manchester: 53%;
  • Centro West Midlands: 50%.

3. Punctuality:

  • NEXUS: 76%;
  • Merseytravel: 73%;
  • Metro West Yorkshire: 70%;
  • Transport for Greater Manchester: 70%;
  • Travel South Yorkshire: 65%;
  • Centro West Midlands: 64%.

4. Journey Times:

  • Merseytravel: 90%;
  • NEXUS: 87%;
  • Metro West Yorkshire: 86%;
  • Travel South Yorkshire: 85%;
  • Transport for Greater Manchester: 82%;
  • Centro West Midlands: 81%.

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Appendix B: By Operator:

Only two operators had a significant enough market share inside the TfGM boundary to warrant inclusion. There are no results for Arriva North West’s operations within Greater Manchester, nor results from independent operators. First Greater Manchester’s results also include First Pioneer’s operations from Dukinfield garage.

1. Overall Satisfaction Scores:

  • First in Greater Manchester: 79%;
  • Stagecoach in Manchester: 84%.

2. Value For Money:

  • First in Greater Manchester: 40%;
  • Stagecoach in Manchester: 60%.

3. Punctuality:

  • First in Greater Manchester: 59%;
  • Stagecoach in Manchester: 78%.

4. Journey Time:

  • First in Greater Manchester: 79%;
  • Stagecoach in Manchester: 82%.

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S.V., 21 March 2013.

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