Executive Summary

Borders Railway Year 2 - Evaluation - Survey of users and non-users - February 2018

Executive Summary

Aims of the Research

The aim of this research was to complete a repeat of the Stage 1 Evaluation two years after the re-opening of the Borders Railway. As with the Stage 1 Evaluation this research aims to provide a high-level assessment of the extent to which the investment is on track to meet its Investment Objectives. The Investment Objectives for the Borders Railway, as outlined in the Final Business Case (FBC) for the scheme[1], are included in Table S1 below.

Table S1: Borders Railway Investment Objectives
Objective Description
Investment Objective 1 Promote accessibility to and from the Scottish Borders and Midlothian to Edinburgh and the central belt
Investment Objective 2 Foster social inclusion by improving services for those without access to a car
Investment Objective 3 Prevent decline in the Borders population by securing ready access to Edinburgh’s labour market
Investment Objective 4 Create modal shift from the car to public transport

In addition to exploring the above, the research also sought to explore views of the service and barriers to use amongst one-off and non-users and examine the impact of the line on visitor numbers during the summer peak and, in so doing, provide greater clarity on the overall tourism impact of the new line.

Methodological Approach

To inform the research a primary data collection exercise was completed comprising:

  • an on-train survey of users of the Borders Railway.
  • a telephone survey of non-, one-off and infrequent users of the Borders Railway based within the Scottish Borders and Midlothian; and
  • secondary data analysis, including a review of ticket sales and passenger count data and an analysis of public transport connectivity.

In addition, a series of consultations were carried out with bus operators / local councils in the Borders and Midlothian to help develop understanding of the impacts of the Borders Railway on bus services.

In total, 825 responses were received to the User Survey and 250 responses were received to the Non-User Survey. While the response numbers were lower than achieved at the Year 1 stage, this was to be expected given that the survey period was shorter. Summing the number of journeys made by respondents to the User Survey over a year equates to over 102,000 single trips – approximately 7% of the passenger journeys recorded during the first full year of opening.

Key Findings

Investment Objectives

A summary of the key findings with respect to the Investment Objectives is provided below.

Investment Objective 1: Promote accessibility to and from the Scottish Borders and Midlothian to Edinburgh and the central belt

The results of the research suggest that the Borders Railway is achieving Investment Objective 1. There are large volumes of users using the service to travel between the Scottish Borders / Midlothian and Edinburgh, with total patronage on the line increasing by 9.5% since Year 1. As may be expected, the majority of patronage is towards Edinburgh with Tweedbank the most frequent origin and Edinburgh Waverley the most frequent destination. Since Year 1, inbound and outbound travel at all the Midlothian stations has increased while the number of people travelling to Galashiels and Tweedbank has fallen slightly, with the latter likely a reflection of the novelty impact of the line wearing off. While commuting is the most common journey purpose, there are also a significant number of leisure and tourist users and evidence that the line has improved access to opportunities and encouraged people to make additional / new trips which they previously did not make, with approximately 35,900 of the estimated annual single trips recorded via the Year 2 sample falling into this category.

Investment Objective 2: Foster social inclusion by improving services for those without access to a car

The results of the research suggest that the Borders Railway is largely achieving Investment Objective 2. The re-opening of the Borders Railway has provided those without a car the means to access the stations along the corridor more quickly and there was strong agreement amongst respondents to the user survey that the railway has enabled them to access opportunities without using the car / only using the car for a portion of the journey. However, while the re-opening of the railway has resulted in improvements in access between the stations, it has also resulted in changes in bus service provision within the study area, most notably the reduction of the X95 service to an hourly service in May 2016. This change is likely to have led to a slight reduction in public transport access for areas on the A7 served by this route which are not directly served by the Borders Railway, including for example, Herriot and Fountainhall. Feedback from the consultations suggests that the impact on bus services generally has been more keenly felt within the Scottish Borders with the decline in both patronage and revenue on the XA95 ultimately resulting in First discontinuing their operations within the county in 2016. However, since taking over from First, Borders Buses has introduced no further changes to bus service provision and has made significant investments in the network. The impact of the railway on public transport and the opportunities the line provides for those without access to a car will continue to be monitored.

Investment Objective 3: Prevent decline in the Borders population by securing ready access to Edinburgh’s labour market

The results of the research suggest that the Borders Railway is achieving Objective 3. As discussed above, commuting is the most common journey purpose and Edinburgh is the most frequent destination, suggesting that the line has secured access to employment opportunities in the capital for residents of the Scottish Borders and Midlothian. The results also suggest that the improved access opportunities associated with the rail line have influenced people’s residential choices and encouraged in-migration to both Midlothian and the Scottish Borders. There is evidence that the Borders Railway has had an impact on people’s choice of workplace with nearly a fifth of those who moved employment stating that the re-opening of the line had been the main factor in their decision. Overall, the impact on the number of house worked is small.

Investment Objective 4: Create modal shift from the car to public transport

The results of the research suggest that the Borders Railway is achieving Objective 4. The responses to the User Survey suggest that there has been a significant modal shift from car to rail, with the majority of respondents (64%) who previously made their trip by another mode stating that they drove all the way to their destination equating to an estimated 36,000 saved annual single car trips from the sample alone. While some of these saved car trips will be offset by car miles associated with new rail trips for which the car is used to access the station, the latter are likely to be shorter and therefore the net impact in terms of reduced car miles is likely to be positive with resultant benefits in terms of carbon reduction, congestion and air quality. While slightly outside of the scope of the objective, it is also worth noting that as well as generating modal shift from car to rail, there has also been a shift from bus to rail with 25% of the sample stating that they previously made their current journey by bus equating to an estimated 14,100 trips.

Other Key Findings

Visitor Trips

A summary of the key findings with respect to visitor trips is provided below:

  • 60% of respondents to the user survey indicated the purpose of their trip was either a day or overnight trip, accounting for 30% of annual trips recorded by the sample. Whilst the majority of visitor trips were Edinburgh bound, there were also a considerable number of trips made to the Scottish Borders.
  • The majority (89%) of visitors came from Scotland with the largest proportion from the Scottish Borders. There were also smaller numbers of visitors from elsewhere in the UK as well as the USA and a number of other overseas countries.
  • The re-opening of the Borders Railway was a relatively important factor in people’s decision to make tourism trips with 70% of tourist users stating that it was a factor in their decision to make their trip and 25% stating that they wouldn’t have made their trip were it not for the rail line. These figures are slightly higher than the equivalent Year 1 figures (65% and 23% respectively).
  • Staying with friends and / or family was the most common accommodation type amongst visitors to both Edinburgh and Midlothian / the Scottish Borders with a slightly higher proportion of visitors to the latter choosing this option. Most respondents indicated they did not pay for accommodation with the proportion who did not pay being higher amongst those visiting the Scottish Borders and / or Midlothian than those visiting Edinburgh.
  • Respondents undertook a range of activities during their trip with shopping the most commonly cited activity. In terms of specific attraction, amongst those visiting the Scottish Borders / Midlothian, responses included Abbotsford House and Melrose Abbey whilst amongst respondents visiting Edinburgh responses included Edinburgh Castle, the Botanic Gardens and Holyrood Palace.

Service Quality and Barriers to Use

A summary of the key findings with respect to passenger views and barriers to use is provided below:

  • Satisfaction with the quality of service was higher amongst respondents to the Year 2 survey with 95% of Year 2 respondents rating the service as very good or good compared to 80% of respondents to the Year 1 Survey.
  • Satisfaction was relatively low with storage facilities for bicycles and buggies on-board the trains and the timing and availability of bus connections between home location and the station. Overall, 63% were satisfied with the reliability of the service whilst 64% were satisfied with their ability to find a seat on the train, higher than the equivalent figures for the Year 1 Survey.
  • There was a positive perception of the Borders Railway amongst respondents in terms of performance against its objectives with more than 90% agreeing that the railway had promoted access to / from the Scottish Borders and Midlothian to Edinburgh as well as improving access for those without access to a car.
  • The majority of non-users, one-off users and irregular users (72%) stated that they did not use the service more frequently as the car was more convenient. Other common responses included the lower cost of bus services (46%), the greater convenience provided by the bus (43%), the cost of train fares (38%) and the inconvenience of bus connections (31%).
  • As was the case during the Year 1 Survey, bus options were more of a draw amongst Midlothian residents compared to those in the Scottish Borders with a higher proportion of Midlothian residents selecting ‘the bus is cheaper’, ‘the bus is more convenient’ and ‘I can use my National Entitlement Card (which provides free bus travel) on the bus’ as reasons for their limited use of the rail service. This is likely to be a result of the availability of the flat fares and the more developed bus network in this area.
  • In total, 40% of respondents to the Non-User Survey stated that improvements to the Borders Railway would encourage them to use the service with the most popular response being ‘lower train fares’. Whilst those in the Scottish Borders also cited ‘lower train fares’ as the most likely to encourage greater use, the most popular response in Midlothian was ‘the ability to reliably get a seat on the train’.