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.



5.1 The previous chapter discussed a wide range of views about local buses in general. This chapter shifts attention to individual travel choices and the specific reasons why buses did not feature highly in these choices for our sample. The chapter describes the typical journeys participants made, focusing particularly on journeys to and from work. It discusses how participants currently make these journeys, and their reasons for choosing particular modes of transport (particularly the car) rather than the bus.

Typical journeys

5.2 Discussing people's individual 'typical journeys' presented some challenges in the context of group discussions. To discuss each participant's individual 'typical journeys' in depth would have take up too much time and disrupted the flow of the group discussion. Our approach, therefore, was to focus discussion on journeys to work, since encouraging modal shift among commuters is a key area of interest (and increasing the proportion of journeys to work made by public or active transport is a National Indicator) for the Scottish Government. However, where possible, and in cases where some participants did not work, interviewers also explored other, non work journeys - for example, journeys for leisure and shopping.

5.3 Discussion of typical journeys within individual interviews with disabled people, in contrast, tended to focus on non-work related trips, since a majority of these participants were either retired, or were not in work at present.

Choice of transport - the journey to work

5.4 Among those in our sample who worked, most made this journey by car. The train, cycling and walking were also mentioned (but with the caveat that walking was only an option if the weather was nice).

5.5 Reasons for using the car to travel to work centred on its perceived 'convenience' and 'reliability', reflecting findings from survey research discussed in Chapter 1. Various aspects of car travel contributed to making it seem more 'convenient', with very few comments suggesting circumstances in which using the car could be less convenient than getting the bus (see 5.7 for an exception to this). First, the car was more convenient because it was quicker and more direct than the bus. Cars allowed participants to travel straight from home to work, choosing their route to avoid accidents or traffic. They were seen as quicker - with a car, there is no need to factor in time for walking to and from the bus stop, changing bus, or for picking and dropping people off. One participant said that the bus from her house to work would either get her there 40 minutes early, or the time would be so tight that she ran the risk of being late. The car allowed her to get to work at a more appropriate and convenient time for her. These views reflect findings from the Scottish Household Survey ( SHS). As discussed in Chapter One, a belief there are no direct routes is the main reason SHS respondents give for saying they cannot use public transport to travel to work. At the same time, among those who say they could, at least in theory, use public transport, a belief it would 'take too long' is the most commonly cited reason for not doing so (Scottish Government, 2009a).

5.6 Second, cars were 'convenient' for making multi-stage journeys. In some circumstances the trip to work was made after children had been dropped at school or nursery, and there was a perception that there simply was not enough time to do this and then get to work by bus. Some participants also made multiple journeys during their working day (to attend meetings, make deliveries, go shopping at lunch time, etc.). Again it was believed this would take too long by bus, as well as requiring participants to know details about numerous bus routes and timetables. Linked to this was the convenience of using the car for carrying equipment or paperwork associated with their job. One view was that it simply was not feasible to carry equipment needed for work onto a bus.

I use the car every single day, I'm self employed, I do an ironing service so I couldn't possibly take ironing on a bus. (Female, 30-44, Aberdeen, Group 1)

5.7 A crucial element of the greater perceived 'convenience' of the car related to feelings of freedom and control over journeys. In general, cars are parked outside or near the home/workplace so people have the freedom to leave when they want, without the need to find out bus times or leave at a set time to catch a bus. In a rare case where a participant described the bus as being 'convenient' in comparison with the car, this reflected the fact that they were unable to park near their work, whereas the bus stopped right outside:

I have to say I didn't mind on the bus in the morning, I sat and read my book (…) actually I thought it was quite relaxing and it's .. it was more convenient for me in terms of where I got off the bus and just crossed the road to work whereas (…) I've got to maybe walk, it's a good 15 minutes (from) where I have to park. (Female, 45+, Aberdeen, Group 2)

5.8 Concerns about control were also evident in discussion about 'knowing your own car' - in contrast with buses, cars were viewed as 'your own personal space' which meant you could control how clean/dirty it was and who would use it. These findings reflect those from Guiver (2006) and Beirao and Cabral (2007), who suggest that a desire for control underpins many of peoples other reasons for preferring car travel (see Chapter One).

5.9 In addition to being more convenient, cars were also viewed as more reliable than buses. In fact, one view was that buses are 'never going to be more reliable than your own car'. This was especially a problem in terms of getting to work on time. The perceived 'unreliability' of buses led one participant to argue that getting the bus to and from work would not be viewed favourably by his employers:

I ken in the criteria now when you put an application form, one of the things they do ask now (is) `how would you travel to work?'. And if they say `bus' you can guarantee you're doon the bottom of the pecking order cause they're no reliable … that's just the way things are now, you just cannae afford folk not to be there, you need folk that are going to be reliable and be there on time. (Male, 30-44, Borders, Group 10)

5.10 This view of buses as ' unreliable' was reflected in the language participants used to describe buses and bus journeys, examples of which include: 'pot luck', 'a lottery', 'random' 'uncertainty', and not ' dependable'. All these phrases suggest that people associate bus travel with an element of 'chance' about whether, and in particular when, you will arrive at your destination. There was, however, some indication that participants viewed some buses as more reliable than others, with night buses mentioned as generally reliable in terms of timing.

5.11 Other reasons for preferring to use the car to travel to work included a perception that the car was cheaper than the bus (although as noted in Chapter Four, comparisons of cost tended to take the 'fixed' costs of running and insuring a car as a given), the belief that there was simply no other way of getting to work than by car, as there was a belief there was no bus route to their work, and a general 'laziness' about using other modes when the car is easily available. It was suggested that even if participants switched from car to bus for the journey to work, it would not mean giving up the car as it was still needed, especially for people with families.

Choice of transport - other kinds of journeys

5.12 Discussion of non-work related journeys included trips for shopping (for food and for other items) and socialising (going on night outs and visiting friends and family). Journeys for leisure pursuits and hobbies (e.g. going to the gym or going fishing) were also mentioned, as were the school run and taking children to after school activities.

5.13 Cars were the preferred mode of transport for shopping, especially food shopping, first because people felt that shopping bags were too cumbersome to take on and off the bus, and second because there was a belief that some out of town retail parks and shopping centres were difficult to get to by bus. This reflects findings in Dudleston et al (2005) that supermarket shopping is the most car dependent type of journey.

5.14 Other modes were more likely to be mentioned in relation to socialising, and nights out in particular. Reasons for not using the car for these journeys centred on the desire to drink alcohol and difficulties parking. The number of people travelling influenced whether people got a taxi or used public transport -taxis were seen as more cost effective than a train or bus for a group of people. One situation where the bus was seen as the best option was for nights out at New Year or on Bank Holidays, because taxis would be busy.

5.15 However, the car still appeared to be the dominant mode of transport for non work journeys. Feelings of freedom and control were again highly relevant, especially in relation to socialising and visiting friends and family. Participants liked being able to decide when they arrive and leave, without the constraints of bus times, especially the last bus home.

I think the words says it all: the last bus. It's a finite limit on when you're allowed to enjoy yourself until .. and I don't really want to be limited like that, you know? (Male, 45+, Glasgow, Group 4)

I go door to door. I'm safe. I'm in my own comfort. I can come and go as I please. (Female, 45+, Glasgow, Group 4)

5.16 And even in relation to leisure journeys, which are arguably less 'time critical' than the journey to work, the reliability of bus services was a concern.

If that last bus doesn't turn up, and you've left your pals to go and get the last bus … you're talkin' .. you're paying 30 or 40 quid back for a taxi on your own. You can't rely on that. You're better just to all get a taxi together. (Female, 16-29, West Lothian, Group 7)

5.17 Concerns about relative cost were also cited - where participants were making leisure trips with children or other family members, it was seen as cheaper to use the car when weighed against the cost of paying for a whole family to make a journey by bus.

5.18 Other, more general reasons for preferring to travel by car included: physical comfort (having heating, air conditioning, comfortable seats and being able being able to listen to music out loud); more general control over the travel environment (for example, being able to avoid over-crowding, which could be particularly important for disabled participants) and being able to carry anything you might need during the day with you.

Key points

  • The car dominated as focus group participants' preferred mode of transport to work.
  • Key reasons the car was seen as more 'convenient' than the bus for commuting to work included the belief that cars were:
    • Quicker and more direct ('door to door')
    • Easier/quicker for multi-stage/multiple journeys
    • Easier for carrying equipment or paperwork.
  • Cars were also generally seen as giving participants more freedom and control over their journeys and over the 'travel environment'.
  • Reliability was another key reason cars were preferred for the journey to work, with one view being that buses are ' never going to be more reliable than your own car'.
  • Participants also suggested that it was cheaper to travel to work by car, though comparisons of cost tended to take the costs of purchasing, maintaining or insuring a car as a 'given'.
  • The car still featured prominently as the preferred mode of transport for non-work journeys. Again, it was seen as cheaper (especially for trips with other family members) and as allowing greater freedom and control over arrival and departure times.
  • The bus was not seen as practical for food shopping because of the large amount of bags to carry.

Taxis were seen as more cost effective than the bus for nights out when travelling in a group.

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