We’ve been doing some behavioural research for Greener Journeys, exploring people’s habits and experiences around bus travel.
Our research informed their report, 'A step change for Britain’s buses: Maximising the economic, social and environmental potential', launched at the House of Commons yesterday.
It’s odd, buses are at the same time very familiar to us, yet rather overlooked, almost invisible to everyone except regular users. This applies to the public and also (I suspect) to politicians and business leaders.
Arguably we ought to be championing buses more, as they are obviously more eco-friendly than private cars (at least when reasonably full), they are cheaper and more flexible than trains and they also represent the ultimate in local, community transport. As ‘localism’ these days is all the rage (Big Society etc) why are buses so far down the political agenda?
Greener Journeys is a bus industry initiative trying to change this, to get buses noticed and taken more seriously within the legislature. And no, the Reg Varney image is not helping to modernise the image of the bus, but possibly does speak to the local community aspect. Interesting that the bus was used as a London Olympics icon.
Both of these examples are London and London is atypcial in relation to buses and so much else. We researched how the bus is used and seen amongst car-owning households outside London: what were the triggers and barriers which would encourage and hinder greater use of the bus?
We spoke to people at home, took a journey with them by bus that they would normally make by car, then invited them to reflect on their experiences and behaviour. (We call this method ‘co-discovery’).
We produced a report and made a film of the whole exercise, hopefully to be linked to here soon. Key highlights are:
- transport choices are habitual and the car is a hard habit to break, with many ‘short cuts’ which keep the car top of mind
- people who don’t use the bus rarely consider doing this (availability bias) and have forgotten some basic ‘bus habits’
- all too often the cost of going by bus and the ‘pain of paying’ count against buses
- buses have something of an image problem
- but the reality is better than the perception, buses are not nearly as bad as some people expect (although not as good as they want)
- and there are some unexpected rewards and benefits from going by bus