Research sheds light on how gut feelings towards buses affect people’s travel decisions

Press release

A new review which takes an in-depth look at the available research into how people feel about the experience of travelling by bus has been published today by the Urban Transport Group, as part of its ongoing research programme into the reasons behind changes in bus patronage.

The first piece of work within the programme, the report What's driving bus patronage change?, identified that the evidence base on how people respond to travelling by bus is still largely underdeveloped. Research aiming to understand public attitudes towards the bus has focused on the influence of operational factors, such as service frequency, journey time and cost, and has typically ignored emotional or social attributes which also play a key role in informing people’s travel choices.

Transport consultants SYSTRA were therefore commissioned by the Urban Transport Group to conduct a literature review of existing research on social and emotional responses to the experience of bus travel.

The review - How people respond to the experience of bus travel and the implications for the future of bus services – is timely given last week’s Transport Select Committee report which called on Government to act to halt the decline in bus services. Key findings of the review include:

  • Different groups of people have different motivators, barriers and experiences of bus use with users generally being more positive and focussing on practical issues, and non-users generally more negative and focussing more on perceptions.
  • Bus users experience a wide spectrum of emotional responses to bus use. These range from a sense of pride and trust in services which are reliable and good value for money, to anxiety and irritation whilst waiting for buses to arrive, or feeling unsafe whilst using a bus, travelling to and from bus stops, or waiting at bus stops.
  • Women generally have more negative views (towards public transport) than men
  • The role of the driver emerges as a key factor with the potential to address some of the negative emotional responses to bus travel. Improved emotional satisfaction and connection with bus services could be achieved, for example, if drivers are constant on the same route at the same time; acknowledge passengers and provide eye contact; help with passenger queries; keep customers informed; and help customers onto buses, if needed. Last week’s Transport Select Committee report recognised the “vital” role drivers play in local bus services by providing information to passengers.
  • A number of international research studies have addressed bus users’ attitudes, emotions, commitment and trust, but very little attempt has been made to understand these factors in relation to bus travel experiences in the UK.

Mick Noone, Director of Integrated Transport at the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and lead Board member for bus at the Urban Transport Group, said:

“Much of the research on why people choose to travel by bus or not focuses on rational decisions around costs, journey times and reliability. But how people feel at a gut level about the experience of bus travel can be just as important in whether they stick with, or abandon, the bus.

“The research also demonstrates that the bus is a unique social space about which different types of people have different positive and negative feelings and perceptions. If, through vehicle design or more support for drivers, we can accentuate what many people like about the bus as a social space, whilst tackling some of the negatives, then we may be able to win more hearts and minds for the bus.’’

As part of the on-going research programme, the Urban Transport Group has commissioned two further pieces of research.

These are:

  • a follow up report by SYSTRA looking at how people spend their time during bus journeys and the value they place on it. This could provide pointers for bus design and the marketing and promotion of bus travel, as well as the benefits of investing and supporting bus services.
  • a report by Transport for Quality of Life which will look in detail at common factors in areas with high bus usage (such as population density, number of students, average income, etc.), as well as identifying and analysing outlier areas which perform better than would be expected on the basis of common factors.