Were railways better before passengers were referred to as "customers"?

Status
Not open for further replies.

Inversnecky

Member
Joined
1 Jan 2021
Messages
457
Location
Scotland
The day I first heard passengers referred to as “customers” was a clear sign that the end times were upon us. :)

“Customers must not cross the line”?!
 
Last edited:
Sponsor Post - registered members do not see these adverts; click here to register, or click here to log in
R

RailUK Forums

tbtc

Veteran Member
Joined
16 Dec 2008
Messages
17,048
Location
Reston City Centre
The day I first heard passengers referred to as “customers” was a clear sign that the end times were upon us.

Apologies for going off-topic, but I think I prefer "customers".

"Customers" suggests that you are going to provide a standard of customer service, that you need to focus on their wants/needs as they may take their "custom" elsewhere, that you need to keep them happy to retain their repeat "custom"

"Passengers" sounds a bit like the "Self Loading Freight" term used in aviation - something that gets "passage" - an object that the railway needs to transport from one station to another - the idea of a "passenger" is of a passive thing - like the protagonist in the Iggy Pop song

If we were starting railways from scratch then I think I'd always prefer to refer to the people who pay for it and the people who use it as "customers" - the only advantage of "passengers" is that it's the term from when we were younger, and there's a certain nostalgia attached to it - but "customers" suggests that you are going to look after the people on the train, you are going to work hard to keep them and you will make the effort to help them.

(just my opinion, but "passengers" sounds a bit Thomas And The Tank Engine, from the era when the railway operated for the railway's benefit, rather than being focussed on providing a service in line with what people demand of it)
 

Inversnecky

Member
Joined
1 Jan 2021
Messages
457
Location
Scotland
Apologies for going off-topic, but I think I prefer "customers".

"Customers" suggests that you are going to provide a standard of customer service, that you need to focus on their wants/needs as they may take their "custom" elsewhere, that you need to keep them happy to retain their repeat "custom"

"Passengers" sounds a bit like the "Self Loading Freight" term used in aviation - something that gets "passage" - an object that the railway needs to transport from one station to another - the idea of a "passenger" is of a passive thing - like the protagonist in the Iggy Pop song

If we were starting railways from scratch then I think I'd always prefer to refer to the people who pay for it and the people who use it as "customers" - the only advantage of "passengers" is that it's the term from when we were younger, and there's a certain nostalgia attached to it - but "customers" suggests that you are going to look after the people on the train, you are going to work hard to keep them and you will make the effort to help them.

(just my opinion, but "passengers" sounds a bit Thomas And The Tank Engine, from the era when the railway operated for the railway's benefit, rather than being focussed on providing a service in line with what people demand of it)

For me it's just the opposite - a "customer" is someone who buys something in a shop, it's basically a financial transaction, whereas the term "passenger" conjures up the image of a (pampered?) guest, well looked after on a train.

Additionally, the term customer for me, in the context of railways, just reeks of enforced ideological free market dogmatism, imposing a bleak, 'balance sheet' above all else, soulless transactionism, on what was previously a wholly different relationship.

Should English students, now they have to pay thousands for their education, be retermed "customers" as opposed to "students"? :)

I think preference is also likely influenced by age too, so a likely factor.

But I'd better not stray too much into politics :)
 
Last edited:

AM9

Established Member
Joined
13 May 2014
Messages
10,370
Location
St Albans
For me it's just the opposite - a "customer" is someone who buys something in a shop, it's basically a financial transaction, whereas the term "passenger" conjures up the image of a (pampered?) guest, well looked after on a train.

Additionally, the term customer for me, in the context of railways, just reeks of enforced ideological free market dogmatism, imposing a bleak, 'balance sheet' above all else, soulless transactionism, on what was previously a wholly different relationship.

I think preference is also likely influenced by age too, so a likely factor.

But I'd better not stray too much into politics :)
The term 'customers' came out of the '80s & '90s dash to privatise everything. That's electricity, gas and phone service consumers became pawns in a profit and loss account. The real damage was inflicted when NHS patients became 'customers'. I'm getting too far off topic here.
 

Class83

Member
Joined
8 Jun 2012
Messages
443
Apologies for going off-topic, but I think I prefer "customers".

"Customers" suggests that you are going to provide a standard of customer service, that you need to focus on their wants/needs as they may take their "custom" elsewhere, that you need to keep them happy to retain their repeat "custom"

"Passengers" sounds a bit like the "Self Loading Freight" term used in aviation - something that gets "passage" - an object that the railway needs to transport from one station to another - the idea of a "passenger" is of a passive thing - like the protagonist in the Iggy Pop song

If we were starting railways from scratch then I think I'd always prefer to refer to the people who pay for it and the people who use it as "customers" - the only advantage of "passengers" is that it's the term from when we were younger, and there's a certain nostalgia attached to it - but "customers" suggests that you are going to look after the people on the train, you are going to work hard to keep them and you will make the effort to help them.

(just my opinion, but "passengers" sounds a bit Thomas And The Tank Engine, from the era when the railway operated for the railway's benefit, rather than being focussed on providing a service in line with what people demand of it)
I think customers does make more sense, as in the function of the railway especially if it was run on wholly commercial grounds is to provide a service which the customer wants (primarily transportation, but with ancillaries such as catering and internet) at a price which makes them choose the service over another mode of transport or simply not travelling while allowing the supplier to make a profit.

Obviously railways in the UK are a hybrid with a significant amount of state funding and consequently direction of the services provided.

The UK railways have such a large investment in either commuter or established long distance business travel that they, haven't always been the fastest in responding to customer demands. For example, Sunday services have been improved since privatisation, but although long distance operators mostly operate a decent timetable just starting a bit later, many local operators still run a significantly reduced service, so if your long distance journey has a short connection on the end, you end up with very long connection times. While there are practical and cost reasons for this, it doesn't improve the customer experience.
 

Electro-Pie

Member
Joined
9 Jul 2005
Messages
13
Location
Derbyshire
I'd tend to agree "passengers" sounds a bit more friendly and for me conjures the image of fireplaces in the waiting room and wooden carriages on the tracks! "Customers" reminds me of work - but I think we can at least agree not to call them "users" !
 

Iskra

Established Member
Joined
11 Jun 2014
Messages
4,623
Location
Chapeltown, Sheffield
The term 'customers' came out of the '80s & '90s dash to privatise everything. That's electricity, gas and phone service consumers became pawns in a profit and loss account. The real damage was inflicted when NHS patients became 'customers'. I'm getting too far off topic here.
LNER and LMS were doing it in the 1930’s. It’s a tired cliche that it’s recent invention
 

Calthrop

Established Member
Joined
6 Dec 2015
Messages
2,470
Fahrgäste is the German standard....

Which I like: has in my view, a gracious and welcoming feel to it -- however insincere (one cynically suspects that the true feelings on the part of railway staff are, and always have been, that people travelling on trains are a nuisance and a headache; would be nice, if it were only possible, not to have to be bothered with them).
 

ac6000cw

Established Member
Joined
10 May 2014
Messages
2,238
Location
Cambridge, UK
If we were starting railways from scratch then I think I'd always prefer to refer to the people who pay for it and the people who use it as "customers" - the only advantage of "passengers" is that it's the term from when we were younger, and there's a certain nostalgia attached to it - but "customers" suggests that you are going to look after the people on the train, you are going to work hard to keep them and you will make the effort to help them.

(just my opinion, but "passengers" sounds a bit Thomas And The Tank Engine, from the era when the railway operated for the railway's benefit, rather than being focussed on providing a service in line with what people demand of it)
I agree 100%

Railways are businesses - the people who pay for their services, either directly or indirectly via their taxes, are customers of the business.

Customers can be passengers as well, if they are actually travelling on a train.
 

nlogax

Established Member
Joined
29 May 2011
Messages
4,057
Location
London & Scotland
The day I first heard passengers referred to as “customers” was a clear sign that the end times were upon us.

In of itself I don't believe the change of terminology made for any material difference other than a wider acknowledgement that money has to change hands in exchange for the provision of a service.
 

Sprinter107

Member
Joined
26 Mar 2019
Messages
681
Which I like: has in my view, a gracious and welcoming feel to it -- however insincere (one cynically suspects that the true feelings on the part of railway staff are, and always have been, that people travelling on trains are a nuisance and a headache; would be nice, if it were only possible, not to have to be bothered with them).
Well I'm not sure where you've got the notion that railway staff think passengers are a nuisance. If it weren't for passengers we wouldn't be employed. My passengers have always come first, and ive gone above and beyond for them, and I know many railway staff who feel the same way. Youll always get exceptions, not just on the railway, but in all walks of life. Please don't tar us all with the same brush.
 

Calthrop

Established Member
Joined
6 Dec 2015
Messages
2,470
Well I'm not sure where you've got the notion that railway staff think passengers are a nuisance. If it weren't for passengers we wouldn't be employed. My passengers have always come first, and ive gone above and beyond for them, and I know many railway staff who feel the same way. Youll always get exceptions, not just on the railway, but in all walks of life. Please don't tar us all with the same brush.

Sorry -- I was trying for "that Earthling thing called 'humour' " -- which elusive thing, my people (as frequently informed of by Earthlings) have great difficulty getting the hang of :smile: .
 

AM9

Established Member
Joined
13 May 2014
Messages
10,370
Location
St Albans
LNER and LMS were doing it in the 1930’s. It’s a tired cliche that it’s recent invention
I wasn't even born in the '30s so I can only take it as heresay that passengers were called 'customers' before WWII, which means that is irrelevant in the context of this thread. From BR's earliest days to the '80s, as a passenger, I cannot recall any mention of 'customers', either verbally or in signage/posters aimed at them. Also,my parents, and later my self were regularly referred to as electricity and gas consumers/users, and telephone subscribers. That was when those operations were described as 'services'.
I do clearly remember the term being forced into everyday use every time the Thatcher government's privatisation promoters appeared on or in the media. It smacked of trying to establish a culture of being served by organisations primarily existing to make profit, - the service aspect was just a mechanism for extracting profit from the largely captive population. When the term was applied to healthcare, the whole issue of privatisation was all but mentioned by name.
 
Last edited:

PeterC

Established Member
Joined
29 Sep 2014
Messages
3,278
If I buy a ticket for my mother then I am the customer and she is the passenger.

Customers and passengers are two overlapping sets of people with whom the railway have business relationships.

I get pedantic about terminology as my job used to involve quality checking system designs and it was vital to ensure that the business analyst,. system designer, database designer and programmer all used the same word to mean the same thing.
 

Bletchleyite

Veteran Member
Joined
20 Oct 2014
Messages
70,555
Location
"Marston Vale mafia"
Be thankful nobody has decided to call passengers "guests" (yet).

Caledonian Sleeper has.

Fahrgäste is the German standard....

And that's not just DB trying to be friendly, it's pretty common. Though you also get "Reisende", which is literally "travellers" but more of a translation of "passengers".

The thing that grates for me about DB isn't that, it's them wittering on in English. Sie sind in Deutschland, Deutsch bitte! :D
 

nlogax

Established Member
Joined
29 May 2011
Messages
4,057
Location
London & Scotland
Caledonian Sleeper has.

To be fair to them that's unrelated to general rail travel and instead aligned to their whole whole 'hotel on wheels' marketing. To my mind that isn't yet working with their new Mk5 offering, though of course there's a separate thread for that.
 

AM9

Established Member
Joined
13 May 2014
Messages
10,370
Location
St Albans
And that's not just DB trying to be friendly, it's pretty common. Though you also get "Reisende", which is literally "travellers" but more of a translation of "passengers".

The thing that grates for me about DB isn't that, it's them wittering on in English. Sie sind in Deutschland, Deutsch bitte! :D
Schuldeutsch ist gut, umgangssprachlich deutsch ist für die Briten einfach zu schwierig! :s
 

Western Lord

Member
Joined
17 Mar 2014
Messages
600
Well I'm not sure where you've got the notion that railway staff think passengers are a nuisance. If it weren't for passengers we wouldn't be employed. My passengers have always come first, and ive gone above and beyond for them, and I know many railway staff who feel the same way. Youll always get exceptions, not just on the railway, but in all walks of life. Please don't tar us all with the same brush.
Reminds me of the scene in the 1958 film The Captain's Table. Purser Richard Wattis explains to new Captain John Gregson that "on a passenger ship everything would run beautifully if it weren't for the passengers".
 

Merle Haggard

Member
Joined
20 Oct 2019
Messages
1,106
Location
Northampton
It's not so much whether 'passengers' or 'customers' is a better term, but, IMO, it's the lazy replacement that's culpable.

Once, the barked-out announcements on L.T. said 'Let the passengers off first!!!', and it was changed to 'Let the customers off first!!' I did then have (a small number) of customers then; if I had noticed any of them alighting, I would certainly have let them off first. Thanks for the advice, but I never saw even one.
During the first year of privatisation a display at Paddington read 'Railtrack wishes all its customers a Merry Christmas'. At that time, I was responsible for checking the toll charges for some of an FOC's trains, so I felt special; it applied to me. But not to the rest of the crowd, who were Great Western or Thames Trains customers.
 

PHILIPE

Veteran Member
Joined
14 Nov 2011
Messages
13,462
Location
Caerphilly
I don't think customer sounds right. We refer to trains that carry people as Passenger trains not trains for customers. What does annoy me is why bother to deviate from normal language just for the sake of it.
 

Ashley Hill

Established Member
Joined
8 Dec 2019
Messages
1,273
Location
The West Country
Someone purchasing a ticket is a customer,once purchased they become a passenger. I think to the general public it makes not the slightest difference.
I had to attend a "customer" care course where we were informed that everyone is a customer of somebody. The operating side of the railway is a customer of the engineering side as they pay to have their trains maintained. Therefore as a "customer" the operating side expect their trains back from the depot on time. There were more examples which I tried to stay awake for.
 

AM9

Established Member
Joined
13 May 2014
Messages
10,370
Location
St Albans
Someone purchasing a ticket is a customer,once purchased they become a passenger. I think to the general public it makes not the slightest difference.
I had to attend a "customer" care course where we were informed that everyone is a customer of somebody. The operating side of the railway is a customer of the engineering side as they pay to have their trains maintained. Therefore as a "customer" the operating side expect their trains back from the depot on time. There were more examples which I tried to stay awake for.
I agree absolutely with your distinction between the two in the first sentence. But I think the general public see themselves more as a passenger than a customer once they are travelling. The signs at the end of the platform say that passengers must not pass that point, or stand over the yellow line, those on trains say that passengers must not put feet on seats/lean against or block doors/enter various part of the train (e.g. the cabs, behind buffet counters or open equipment cabinets etc.). I don't think that employees training models have any relevance to non-work roles, (i.e. passengers).
 

Dr Hoo

Established Member
Joined
10 Nov 2015
Messages
2,734
Location
Hope Valley
I note from Terry Gourvish's official business history of British Rail (second volume, 1974-97) describes how Jim O'Brien (a very senior manager whose roles included Assistant Chief Executive (Railways)) launched BR's 'Customer First' programme in 1983-84.

It even trickled down to the front line in terms of staff briefings.

(This was essentially at the end of the Sir Peter Parker era and the start of sectorisation under career railwayman Robert B Reid.)
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Top