Do You Use Public Transport? Why – Or Why Not?

Map - ACTION weekday 2013 - partHow to you travel around each day to do the things you do?

Do you drive a car? Get a lift with someone? Catch a bus, train, tram or ferry? Ride a bike? Walk? (Here’s something to think about: unless you can’t actually walk, we all walk for at least part of our journeys.)

Why do you choose to travel the way you do?

I’m guessing that at least one of your reasons is ‘because it’s convenient’.

The Macquarie Dictionary defines convenient as:

  1. favourable, easy, or comfortable for use.
  2. at hand; easily accessible.

Note those key words: easy, comfortable, at hand (we could say close by).

The more convenient something is, the more likely we are to use it.

In our busy lives, convenience is the key to why we do so many things.

And that particularly applies to how we get around to do all the things we do.

It’s a major reason why so many people have cars…and jump in them without a second thought. There it is, just sitting at your door, ready whenever you need to go.

But…what if it wasn’t sitting there? Or you couldn’t drive?

What about getting frustrated by traffic? Or dealing with the other ‘idiots’ on the road?

And what happens at the end of your journey? Is there a car space just where you want it to be…every single time? How much time – and money – do you spend parking?

For most of us, there are alternatives to driving for most of our journeys.

And, as we need urgently to reduce our environmental footprints – and particularly our greenhouse gas emissions – we need to re-consider how we do our day-to-day travel. Improving transport sustainability is certainly one of the challenges for urban planning.

I did that earlier this year when I embarked on a Carbon Fast focussing on my transport. It was great fun and eye-opening to try different ways of getting about, including increasing my use of public transport…and I really enjoyed the outcomes.

I commented that an ‘improved bus service that enabled me to make more of my trips by bus…helped’. I viewed the latest changes to the bus service as improved because they made the bus more convenient for me: the bus was close to my home and my destinations, quick, low cost, comfortable…and I could make very good use of my travel time by doing something else while I travelled (even napping ;)).

So…what would it take to get you to use public transport? (And, if you already do, what would it take to get you to use it more often?)

The first thing is, of course, that public transport must be available. You can’t catch a bus, train, tram or ferry if there’s none to catch. 😉

And it must be convenient – for you, not the operator.

The way to encourage people to use public transport is to make it convenient for passengers.

So, the threshold hurdle that any change to public transport services should have to jump is ‘Will this make the bus/train/tram/ferry more convenient and comfortable?’ to passengers, both existing and potential.

And how would the public transport provider know what’s convenient for passengers?

Ask them!

People who currently use public transport are priceless sources of information about what works for them – and what doesn’t, what they like – and what they don’t, ideas about how to improve the service, and stories that people can relate to.

If you’re looking to increase patronage, it’s especially important to ask people who are not currently using the services why they don’t – and what it would take to get them to use it.

And, having asked, it’s really important to listen to the answers. I mean really listen…so you understand what people are saying. (Otherwise, why bother wasting everyone’s time, energy and money by going through sham consultations?)

That doesn’t seem like rocket science.

But for some people and organisations it can be very hard. Especially if they have ‘usage data’. And ‘experts’. And their way of doing things. 😉

Of course it’s good to have some data about past usage (and some expertise in the technicalities of delivering public transport services), but that is no substitute for more detailed on-the-ground information about what is needed to make a service that will be used more in the future.

That’s because the key to getting more trips made by public transport is to organise services so that they attract passengers. Using current demand as the major determinant does not deliver this outcome. Especially if there are issues with the completeness and accuracy of the data…

And the way to attract passengers is to ask them what they want…at the beginning of the process. That doesn’t mean just asking some current passengers what they think about some proposed changes.

So…why do at least some public transport providers make changes to their services without such fundamental market research? Why don’t they ask potential and existing bus users about their needs and wants regarding transport?

If they had done such market research, then they would not, for example, remove bus routes from hilly areas containing a large proportion of older people, many of whom do not own cars and have trouble enough reaching the previous stops…or remove night services that allow people to get home from a night out – or from their job serving people having a night out.

Instead, changes would reflect the needs of people living in or travelling to the areas concerned. Considerations would include things like socio-economic and mobility issues of the people, topography, and physical and social aspects of the neighbourhood (especially perceived safety) – what people need and want. And they would increase convenience.

To be continued…

What would you like to see in public transport…that would encourage you to use it? Just leave a comment in the box below…or send me a voice message by clicking on the tab on the right.

Till next time…be gentle to yourself and our world!