Understanding Why Some People Do Not Use Buses

This research explores perceptions of bus services and barriers to use amongst people who do not use buses often, and looks at what might encourage them to use buses more in future.



3.1 This chapter briefly explores experience and knowledge of travelling by bus among our sample, in order to help contextualise the views and opinions discussed in the remainder of the report.

Last experience of using local buses

3.2 Although all participants in the study travelled by bus infrequently (once a month or less) or not at all, there was considerable variation in when they had last used a bus, from within the last week to never. 15 Focus group participants were largely clustered into two groups - one of people who had used the bus in the last couple of months, and another who had last used the bus a year or more ago. Broadly speaking, participants in urban areas were more likely to have used the bus relatively recently, while participants in rural areas were more likely to have last used the bus a number of years ago. Four out of six participants with learning disabilities had used the bus within the last couple of months, while the experience of those with mobility problems tended to be less recent. Note that these figures are provided only to help frame subsequent discussion about views and experiences - given the sample size and purpose, it is not appropriate to draw wider inferences from this about the likelihood of different groups having used a bus recently.

3.3 Participants mentioned a wide variety of journey types when asked about their last bus journey, including: socialising/nights out, travelling to work, travelling to school (when they were still at school), going to a sporting event, taking a child on a bus trip, getting to a train station and going shopping in town. Reasons for choosing the bus for these trips were divided between negative 'push' factors relating to cars being unavailable/impractical for specific journeys, and more positive 'pull' factors. 'Push' factors included wanting to drink alcohol, the car being unavailable (because it was having an MOT test, being repaired or was needed by someone else), and parking charges being too high (for trips into town). 'Pull' factors included being able to travel in a large group together and wanting a child to have the experience of travelling by bus. The bus was also sometimes used as an alternative to walking, rather than as an alternative to car travel.

General impressions of recent bus journeys

3.4 Participants' views of particular aspects of local buses are discussed in detail in subsequent chapters. As we will see, many of these views were fairly negative, although negative perceptions were not always linked to personal bad experiences. Given that the focus of this study was on finding out why participants did not use buses more often, it is unsurprising that much of the discussion focused on negatives. As discussed in Chapter One, we know that the views of people who actually use buses more often tend to be much more positive. Moreover, it is also worth noting that when participants in this study were asked specifically about their most recent experience of using the bus, rather than their views of buses in general, their views were more mixed. There were examples of recent bus journeys involving long waits or delays making participants late for work, for example. But more positive (or at least neutral) experiences were also mentioned, with journeys variously described as " alright", " not too bad", and " fantastic".

Experience of using buses abroad or in other cities

3.5 Participants had collectively travelled on local buses in over 20 countries across the world including France, the USA, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Sweden, Malta and Lithuania. They had also used buses in other UK cities including Edinburgh, York, London and Manchester. Participants contrasted these experiences with their experiences of using local bus services in their area.

3.6 Although local bus services were sometimes viewed favourably in comparison with bus services elsewhere, there were two key areas where bus services in other countries or cities were seen as stronger:

  • First, it was suggested that buses abroad were better organised, more regular and more likely to arrive on time. The service in Hong Kong in particular was described as " a different quality of public transport". While participants did admit that the types of journeys they made when on holiday abroad were different - and in particular less time sensitive - than journeys made at home, there still appeared to be a belief that some other countries provided more regular, reliable services.
  • Second, the physical condition of buses in some other countries was seen as far superior to buses in participants' local areas. They were described as being a lot more clean and comfortable.

In Belgium and places like that where the buses are absolutely sparklingā€¦ You know? Something like that makes people say 'Oh, I want to travel on a bus'. (Male, 30-44, Borders, Group 12)

Knowledge of local bus services

3.7 Participants' knowledge of their local bus services ranged from none at all, to a general awareness of local services, to quite detailed knowledge about specific aspects of the service.

3.8 Examples where people appeared to have only a 'general awareness' of local buses included:

  • Being aware that a number of buses travelled up the road where they lived during the day
  • Knowing the names of different local bus companies, and
  • Being aware of lots of people standing at bus stops and therefore thinking the buses are not very frequent.

3.9 Participants were also aware of different ticket types and services (e.g. day savers and monthly tickets, Park and Rides) without necessarily knowing prices or times.

3.10 However, there were also examples of more specific knowledge of actual bus times, which bus numbers to get to particular destinations, and the prices of specific tickets.

3.11 Unsurprisingly, the main factor affecting knowledge of local bus services appeared to be the length of time since participants last used a bus. Those who had used the bus more recently tended to have more detailed knowledge of routes and prices. In contrast, participants in a rural group that had not used a bus within the last year knew nothing about bus routes, bus fares, the frequency of buses or who the local bus companies were.

Sources of information about buses

3.12 In some cases, participants did not know where they would find information about buses or could only speculate about what information was available, since they had not looked into it themselves. However, the following possible sources of information were discussed:

  • The Internet
  • Written sources (timetables at bus stops, leaflets/flyers, information in shops, prices in bus windows)
  • 'Official' sources (like drivers, bus companies, bus stations and the Traveline phoneline), and
  • Friends, family, neighbours or others at bus stops.

3.13 Online information on buses was accessed using Google or directly via specific websites like Traveline or the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport website. One view was that the Internet was the best source of information about local buses.

I would always look there first. I wouldn't even bother going to the bus stop and seein' what the timeā€¦ the timetable is (Male, 16-29, West Lothian, Group 7)

3.14 However, another view was that many travel websites are not user-friendly, that it is difficult to decipher where to get on and off the bus, and that some are not up-to-date.

3.15 It was suggested that in some areas, there was no longer anywhere to go to get information about local buses in person, since the bus station or ticket booth had closed.

3.16 Family, friends, neighbours or others at bus stops appeared to be a particularly important source of information for participants with a learning disability or a mobility problem.

Key points

  • Although participants in this study were recruited because they did not currently take buses often or at all, the length of time since participants had last used a bus varied considerably. Focus group participants were broadly split between those who had used a bus in the last couple of months, and those who had last used a bus over a year ago.
  • Reasons for participants' last bus journey were divided between 'push' factors, associated with the car being unavailable or impractical for particular journeys, and 'pull' factors associated with positive attributes of bus travel.
  • Although overall participants' views of buses focused on the negative, opinions of their most recent journeys by bus were more varied, with more positive or at least 'neutral' experiences also apparent.
  • Levels of knowledge of local bus services varied, largely depending on the length of time since participants had last used a bus. While some knew very little and others had no more than a general awareness of routes or frequency, in some cases participants displayed quite detailed knowledge of routes and prices.
  • Participants identified various possible sources of information about buses, both formal (Internet, timetables at bus stops, Traveline) and informal (friends, family, other people at bus stops). Informal sources appeared particularly important to participants with a disability.
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