The unexpected age of ScotRail’s toughest customers – Alastair Dalton

They are ScotRail’s hardest-to-please passengers.

Overcrowding is a particular bugbear of younger passengers. Picture: Gary Dale

Young people are not just the most vociferous complainers on social media when things go wrong on their commute, they are also the train operator’s greatest critics, according to new research.

Analysis by official rail watchdog Transport Focus shows young travellers mark down ScotRail more than others in its twice-annual survey of passengers.

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I’m not raising this as just another way of bashing ScotRail, but to highlight the crucial need to be aware of the views of the next generation of travellers.

For today’s teenagers and young adults, the train should present a more attractive option for getting about than at any time for the best part of a century, if not ever. Despite all ScotRail’s current troubles, things are better now than they have been for that long.

The problem for ScotRail and other train operators has been coping with the phenomenal growth in rail, with annual journeys north of the border reaching around 100 million – an extraordinary figure compared to the state of the network even a couple of decades ago.

This has fuelled expectations – and frustration. For instance, it is now almost five years since Abellio announced two extra fleets of trains for ScotRail, but they are still to be fully introduced.

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The well-documented and wide-ranging problems with the new trains come as more and more people cram into the existing carriages. It’s not surprising passenger discontent has grown, with satisfaction ratings at their lowest for 16 years.

And yet, nearly four in five remain happy with ScotRail, so there is a danger of opposition politicians exaggerating the situation.

That’s the context, now here’s what their 16 to 25-year-old passengers think.

Significantly, in key areas they scored ScotRail lower than older travellers.

The figures, which combine the last two Transport Focus surveys, show that 75 per cent of the younger age group were satisfied overall – six percentage points lower than for all passengers.

Younger travellers were also less happy than others about the punctuality and reliability of trains, their cleanliness, and personal security.

They were the least satisfied compared to average about overcrowding levels in trains (66 per cent vs 75 per cent) and the value for money of fares – 42 per cent vs 52 per cent.

They also had greater concern than other travellers about the state of the toilets, power sockets being available and wi-fi reliability.

Perhaps more seasoned travellers have learned to adjust their expectations, or are just more accepting of the service as they find it.

But the importance of paying heed to such findings is because this generation of passengers offers the best prospects yet of being enticed along a different transport path than their car-centric elders.

For the sake of the environment, their health and fitness, even for their safety.

It is also important to remember young people don’t have unrealistic expectations.

Both the Scottish Government and ScotRail itself have set the bar very high. Transport Scotland operates the toughest inspections of any rail operator in Britain, which scrutinise pretty much every aspect of the service in minute detail.

ScotRail’s oft-repeated pledge is to build the “best railway Scotland has ever had”. Passengers young and old are definitely up for that.