Sunday, August 26, 2012

Consumer dissatisfaction with Hungarian railways

It was 6 AM when I got on the train in a town called Cegléd, about 70 km from Budapest, the capital of Hungary. It was a cold morning in mid-January, so I was glad that the train arrived only 5 minutes late. The wagon was dimly lit, and without the sun it was hard to find my way to an empty seat, even though there were plenty of them. I did not bother with the cold on the train and quickly fell asleep.
When I woke up, the train stopped in a station and people were swarming into the wagon. It was overwhelmed in a second, full with the noise and odor of the early morning commuters, heading Budapest. Most of them were young adults and pupils. The vapor and thickness of the carriage was hard to bear. The wagon was way too small for all us, but it seemed that it was just the everyday routine, as I haven’t heard any complaints about the situation.
The delay, the cold, the lack of proper lights, the odor, the noise and all the other inconveniences were just regular for the notorious Hungarian railway company, the MÁV, which affects the everyday life of at least 700 thousand commuters around Budapest.

According to a study by Eboli & Mazzula (2010), there are ten crucial characteristics of a rail service that determines passenger satisfaction:
•             Timetable: frequency and travel time
•             Reliability: trains on time
•             Completeness: number of stops, station accessibility, etc.
•             Information: time table and price information
•             Comfort: journey experience, odor, noise
•             Cleanliness: both train and station
•             Safety: against accidents
•             Safety: of private property
•             Price
•             Other: environmental protection, etc.

I decided to create my own consumer satisfaction survey on the commuters’ preferences living in the outskirts of Budapest. The question that I wanted to answer was the following: „How could the MÁV enhance its consumers’ satisfaction effectively?

In March 2012, I have created a survey and sent it to the most famous MÁV blog ( , and posted it on the Facebook wall of the largest commuters’ towns near Budapest. Answerers had to show their preferences on a five-point scale. It worked reasonably well, as I have been able to reach 300 answerers, and half of them were real everyday commuters. The results are quite interesting.

There seems to be only a small difference between the views’ of commuters and rare-users. Commuters use train services everyday, and their most important needs are to get into town quickly, reliably and cheaply. Most of them are living on the outskirts of Budapest, getting up everyday early to arrive to work before 8 or 9 am, and travel home in the afternoon. They chose to buy a cheaper and greener house, but in turn they have to commute everyday, that consumes time and money.

In my sample, most of the rare-users travel only occasionaly, but several times a year. We may imagine them living in Budapest, but they regularly take the train to visit relatives or to go on holidays.

So, How could the MÁV enhance its consumers’ satisfaction effectively? – Results
Travel time, punctuality and cleanliness. By far these are the three most important factors that affect the whole sample. It is interesting that for the commuters, top3 are travel time, punctuality and the price of the journey. We can see that cleanliness of the train is not as important for them as the price of the service. An other, not surprising difference is that the frequency of the service is only important for the commuters. The most unimportant factor was environmental protection.

It is not enough to see how satisfied people are with a certain aspect of the service. The most important factor is how they feel about the importance of this aspect. I have also asked on a five-point scale how important they find these aspects, and I created the „relative dissatisfaction” of the most important factors. It shows how dissatisfied the answerers are, according to the factor’s importance (the larger the number, the more dissatisfied).

I have also performed some more advanced methods to enhance precision. These results show that if the MÁV would be able to increase the average answerer’s travel time satisfaction with 10%, the average overall consumer satisfaction could increase with 3,7%. Punctuality could have 3,5%, price of the journey 2,5% and cleanliness 2%. We can see that all of these improvements have small effects on the overall satisfaction of consumers.

A possible improvement could be the broader use of new suburban trains, like the FLIRT electric regional train (on the photo). On those lines where these new models are running, the average passenger is significantly more satisfied, both with the overall performance of MÁV and the comfort of the journey.

How could the MÁV enhance its consumers’ satisfaction effectively? – what could the MÁV do?
Travel time and punctuality are strongly related to the quality of the rail network. Experts on this topic also stressed out that the most important improvement would be the modernisation of the network, taking into consideration the 21th century needs of a commuter. That takes a lot of time, money and effort; therefore, at best this process would yield results after long years.

But comfort and cleanliness are easier and cheaper to achieve with a new, more effective cleaning company. The frequency of the trains could be enhanced by new, well-organised time tables. For that, the attitude of this state-owned company has to be changed.
Csaba Gábor Pogonyi


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