The Urban Transport Group has today launched the most sophisticated tool currently available for modelling bus use in city regions.
The new Metropolitan Bus Model (which was developed by consultants WSP) is now freely available for use by all of the Group’s full members. Centrally, Urban Transport Group is also using the model to assess future scenarios for bus patronage during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The model allows different variables to be set for population, employment, car ownership, service levels, fares and public funding, and explores their impact on bus use at the level of local authority districts.
On funding, for example, the complex model can examine different scenarios including the impact on patronage of increases or reductions in Government capital investment and revenue support for bus.
Jonathan Bray, Director of the Urban Transport Group, said:
“The pandemic has plunged what was already a fragile industry into a crisis so there’s never been a more important time than now to have the ability to model the implications of different policy options. The Metropolitan Bus Model will allow us to do this at an unprecedented level of detail and demonstrate in depth the consequences for patronage of different approaches.
“Whilst the sector and Government chronically underinvests in research and development on bus, we are committed to a data driven approach to turning the industry around and this tool significantly increases our capabilities.”
Dr Tom Ellerton, Researcher (analysis) for the Urban Transport Group, who led on the development of the model, added:
“One of our roles is to reduce costs for our members through joint procurement and the Metropolitan Bus Model is a prime example of how we do this through establishing a mutual, sector-leading resource rather than each transport authority commissioning their own work. We would be delighted to talk to any other authorities, or to Government, on how the model could be useful to them and if they would like to commission its use from us.”
This research - conducted by transport consultancy SYSTRA on behalf of the Urban Transport Group - uncovers valuable insights into how passengers spend their time while travelling by bus, and sets out the implications for future bus design and promotion.
The research was based on surveys of over 1,100 people on two different bus routes in Leeds and Nottingham. The two routes both provide a high frequency service and operate with double decker buses with leather seats, WiFi and USB ports - some of the best on-board facilities available. However, the profile of passengers between the two routes was somewhat different, with passengers in Leeds tending to be older, working or retired, whilst a higher proportion of respondents in Nottingham were students, due to the bus route travelling along the university corridor.
This research, by Transport for Quality of Life, identifies the underlying conditions that best predict levels of bus use in local areas. It points to six conditions which, when combined, are used to define the ‘Intrinsic Bus Potential’ (IBP) of a local authority area. These include the Index of Multiple Deprivation, the proportion of students, and rush-hour traffic travel times.
The report also identifies additional factors which may explain why some areas exceed expectations with higher levels of bus use than predicted, such as a pre-existing culture of bus use, high levels of bus provision, and local factors such as poor rail connectivity.
The research has a number of important implications, including the need for radical change on bus policy to enable more areas to do significantly better on bus patronage.
This literature review - carried out by SYSTRA for the Urban Transport Group - aims to appraise the existing evidence base on the range of factors that influence how people respond to the experience of bus travel, with a focus on the social-emotional experience of bus travel and on the experiences of different socio-demographic groups.
The review does not aim to act as a ‘to-do’ list to complete in order to improve bus travel experiences. Any learnings taken should acknowledge that the bus services assessed in the literature are often hyper-local and therefore are experienced in a very individual market.