Bidding for South Eastern will be interesting Roger Ford

Informed Sources

Last month’s analysis of the ridership growth data published in the High Level Output Specification (HLOS) for England & Wales produced the usual response from those who subscribe to the view that perpetual growth is an inherent by-product of privatisation. To recapitulate, the DfT’s peak demand forecasts for London termini and the regional cities showed average total growth over the five years of Control Period 6 (2019-24) of 3%.

There were some outliers and anomalies, but 3% it was. Not per annum, but over the five years.

On 5 October, the Office of Rail & Road published the ridership statistics for the first Quarter (April-June) of the current financial year (2017-18). This is not the place for a detailed analysis, but Table 1 shows the change in ridership of the ‘big four’ L&SE operators compared with Quarter 1 2016-17.

Now there are obvious extraneous factors, such as engineering blockades and heightened fears over terrorism in the capital. And the ongoing industrial dispute at Southern may well have distorted the GTR performance. But in third rail territory these are still substantial falls, quarter on quarter.

Another intriguing statistic is that season ticket revenue has now fallen for six successive quarters, while revenue per journey increased by 4.5% compared with Quarter 1 2016-17. ORR suggests that this provides further evidence of a shift from season tickets to other, more expensive, ticket types – or other modes.

Finally, I have pulled out ORR’s quarterly ridership figures for the last year. Obviously there are seasonal and other factors in play, but it does seem to provide further support for DfT’s assumption of a flat period ahead. I know from experience that some readers get disproportionately cross when I draw attention to statistics that indicate that ridership growth is slowing and point to the historic record. But as the investment fund managers are duty bound to point out, ‘past performance is no guide to future performance’.

Anyway this is going to make bidding for the South Eastern replacement franchise particularly interesting. If you can’t bid on the basis of revenue growth, new trains are going to be even more attractive in the quality-based evaluation. Bye-bye Networkers.

Busy, but not as busy as before: passengers join a ‘321’ at Stratford on 16 May 2017
Jamie Squibbs