HomeBusinessORR passenger numbers indicate major improvements but challenges remain

ORR passenger numbers indicate major improvements but challenges remain


Richard Clinnick takes a look at the figures released by ORR, which indicate a major improvement on one of rail’s most trying times, but also highlight some of the challenges which lie ahead.

There have been more than double the number of passenger journeys by rail between April 2021 and March 2022 compared with during the pandemic in April 2020 and March 2021.

Figures released by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) on 16 June showed a total of 990 million journeys were made in Britain during the 2021-2022 period, compared with 388 million in 2020-2021, when journeys fell to their lowest levels since the 19th century. Numbers had dropped to 4% of pre-pandemic levels during the strictest lockdown in April 2020, when government advice was not to leave home unless necessary, and travel was only for key workers.

Figures published by the ORR also show that the number of journeys made in 2021-2022 Q4 (January 2022- March 2022) was 275 million. This was 10 million fewer than Q3. 

As a result of the rising passenger numbers, passenger revenue climbed to £5.9 billion in 2021-2022 compared to £2 billion the previous year. This is 54 per cent of the £11 billion generated pre-pandemic.

Financial conundrums

ORR figures show that 83.4 per cent of passenger journeys were made using Advance, Off-Peak and Anytime/Peak tickets, and other ‘ordinary’ tickets, while only 16.9 per cent of journeys were made using season tickets, which is half the pre-pandemic levels. This presents a financial conundrum for the industry as season ticket revenue was £526 million for the most recent year, only 24 per cent of the £2.2 billion generated in the year prior to the pandemic.

Further issues relate to changes in the way businesses operate with more remote working and many operators suggesting office workers now travel on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and work from home on Mondays and Fridays. This means the need for weekly season tickets has declined. Speaking on 16 June at Hornsey depot, secretary of state for transport Grant Shapps said that the railway was not only competing against other forms of public and private transport but also remote working.

The ORR also found that long-distance journeys recorded the highest relative usage compared to pre-pandemic figures. London North Eastern Railway (LNER), which operates trains on the East Coast main line between London King’s Cross, Leeds, Newcastle, Hull, Middlesbrough and Scotland, has seen a return of 83.3 per cent of passengers compared to pre-pandemic figures. This is the most of any operator.

Regional and operator performance

ORR also said that journeys made in the regions made up 58.3 per cent of relative usage compared to pre-pandemic, and 55.9% of journeys were made in London and the South East compared to pre-pandemic.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), historically Britain’s largest operator in the number of trains operating, had the most rail usage in 2021-2022 with 179 million journeys, however this was only 51.3 per cent of relative usage compared to two years ago.

Heathrow Express recorded the lowest relative usage during 2021-22 at 30.6 per cent.

As for finances, the ORR revealed that journeys made with Advance tickets equated to 84.2 per cent of pre-pandemic usage, with a 63.4pp increase in relative usage compared with a year ago. This is likely to affect revenue because Advance tickets are often cheaper, meaning a passenger will be travelling on a cheaper fare than if they had bought the ticket on the day of their journey. Although trains are getting busier, this also means that if there are three passengers with Advance tickets while it may seem that more people are travelling again, they could have, combined, paid less than someone who bought their journey that day. However, the industry will hope that those on Advance tickets continue to buy tickets and so increase revenue in that respect.

Off-Peak ticket usage was up 49.4pp, and Anytime/Peak ticket usage was up 39.0pp. The ORR said that this was a substantial increase in relative usage compared with a year ago.

Journeys made with Season tickets equated to 28.4% of pre-pandemic usage two years ago, with a 12.6pp increase in relative usage compared with a year ago.

The ORR said that all revenue figures quoted are in real terms with historic figures adjusted using the Consumer Prices Index (CPI).

Overall, rail usage continues to fluctuate according to Department for Transport (DfT) figures. Passenger numbers reached 92 per cent of pre-pandemic figures on 23 May, however they began to decline again. Figures published on 15 June show they had dropped to 80 per cent on 9 June, although this is an estimate and is yet to be confirmed. By comparison car usage is at 95 per cent, and London Underground usage is at 65 per cent, having dropped from 77 per cent on 26 May.


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