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.



6.1 Previous chapters have focused on the first aim of the research, to explore why buses were not used more often. This penultimate chapter focuses on the second aim - what might encourage greater bus use in the future. First, the chapter explores whether participants felt they could use the bus more in the future for work and non-work journeys. Next, it looks at whether our sample fell into different groups in terms of their attitudes to future bus use. Finally, it discusses what (if anything) would encourage or motivate people to use the bus more often.

Could participants use the bus to travel to work?

6.2 Participants were asked whether or not they could make any of the journeys they typically make by car by bus instead, focusing particularly on the journey to and from work. Several key issues emerged from this discussion.

6.3 First, it was often difficult to disentangle people's ability to switch modes from their willingness to do so. For example, while some participants said they could use a bus, but it would take too long, others said they could not use a bus, because it would take too long. Thus the question of whether people said they could or could not use the bus in principle appeared less important than the reasons given for not in fact being able/willing to making the switch in practice.

6.4 Second, among our sample, while some people expressed the desire to use the car less or the bus more, there was a general belief among employed participants that it would not be possible or practical to use the bus for the journey to work in particular. Many participants gave multiple reasons for being unwilling/unable to use the bus for commuting, reflecting issues already discussed in Chapters Four and Five - time, cost, frequency, reliability, the need to make multi-stage or multi-purpose journeys, and the need to carry equipment or bags.

6.5 In some cases participants appeared to be basing their views on some knowledge of specific local services (although it was not possible to verify the accuracy of this 'knowledge'). For example, one participant said that they would need to get 3 buses and leave very early to get to work by bus. In other cases, views appeared to be based on more general perceptions of how long buses take or how reliable they are - one participant said she could use the bus to get to work, but suspected it would not work ' timewise', while another said there were no stops 'that I knew of' near their work, but they had not looked into it in detail since they had a car.

6.6 Finally, some participants said they would be unwilling to use the bus to travel to work regardless of whether the 'practical' barriers discussed above could be overcome. These different 'categories' of infrequent or non-bus users are discussed in more detail below.

Could participants use the bus for other kinds of journeys?

6.7 Among participants who expressed a willingness to use the bus more, this was typically discussed in relation to social journeys or trips into town:

I would certainly like to use it socially. (Male participant, 45+, Glasgow, Group 4)

Socially, I'd probably use the bus socially 'cause I've got friends who live in town and … if I wanted to drink I'd take the bus in to see them. (Male participant, Aberdeen, 30-44, Aberdeen, Group 1)

Goin' into the town on a Saturday for some lunch, or whatever. Yeah. I would. I would use a park and ride for that. (Male participant, 30-44, Dundee, Group 5)

6.8 However, substantial barriers to using the bus for nights out, trips into town, and visiting family and friends were still identified. While some of these barriers were similar to those cited above, centring on time, changing buses, cost and infrequency, several additional barriers were also mentioned to using the bus for non-work journeys, including:

  • Being unsure of routes or fares due to not using the bus often
  • Lack of appropriate routes to where they want to go, and
  • The last bus being too early for returning from nights out.

6.9 Although there was a lot of discussion about safety on buses (as seen in Chapter Four), safety concerns did not in fact feature particularly highly in the reasons given by participants for their being unwilling or unable to use buses more often in the future. The one exception to this was in relation to catching the bus at night, where concerns about crime and anti-social behaviour on buses and at bus stops did seem to be a real barrier. But night buses aside, safety concerns appeared to be subsidiary to issues around timing, reliability and perceived cost in terms of the 'biggest barriers' to getting the bus either to work or for other purposes.

General attitudes to future bus use

6.10 One objective for this study was to explore whether or not there are particular 'categories' or 'types' of 'infrequent or non-bus users' who are more or less willing to use the bus more often in the future, and who might be susceptible to different types of incentives to bus use. Writing in Dudleston et al (2005), Jillian Anable and Steve Stradling used cluster analysis to identify different segments of car and non-car user using survey data. They found four driver 'segments'. These segments were primarily distinguished by their attitudes, rather than by their current car use or their demographic characteristics. That is, people of the same age, gender and income, who currently used their cars a similar amount, might nonetheless display quite different levels of: attachment to their car, willingness and perceived ability to reduce their car use, and identification with environmental problems and transport issues.

6.11 Analysis of the interviews and focus groups conducted for this study provide some evidence to suggest that 'infrequent or non-bus users' can also be divided into three different groups depending on their willingness to use the bus more, attachment to the car and identification with environmental issues.

6.12 First, as discussed above in paragraph 6.6 there was a group of participants who categorically did not want to use the bus more in future, regardless of improvements to services. This group, who might be described as 'bus refusers' or 'car lovers' and who were similar in many respects to Anable and Stradling's 'die hard drivers' (see Dudleston et al, 2005), were particularly attached to their cars and said they enjoyed driving. They saw no point in paying for the bus when they already had access to a car they had paid for. The bus was described as a ' last resort' among this group, with a suggestion that they would use a taxi or even not go out at all if their car was not available. They were unlikely to mention anything positive about getting the bus or to be motivated by 'green' reasons to use public transport more often (for example, saying they were 'not eco friendly'). Examples of views associated with this group include:

  • Probably nothing would encourage me to use the bus (Male, 30s, with learning disabilities, who described himself as 'a complete and utter petrolhead').
  • If I had no other means, I couldn't get somewhere I needed to go it would be a last resort to get a bus. (Female, 30-44, Borders, Group 10)
  • I don't think you could pay me enough to make me travel by bus, there's just no way that (it) would ever come into my head to travel by bus. (Male, 45+, Borders, Group 11)

6.13 The remaining participants, in contrast, did say they would either like to use the car less or the bus more. These two aspirations did not always go hand in hand - in particular, the aspiration to use the car less was sometimes focused on 'active' travel options, like walking, running or cycling, and appeared to be motivated more by a desire to have a healthier lifestyle. However, among those who expressed some interest in using the bus more (and the car less), two broad groups were apparent: 'bus pessimists' and 'willing to be convinced'.

6.14 'Bus pessimists' share some similarities with Anable and Stradling's 'car complacents'. Although, when pushed, they say they would like to use the car less and the bus more, at least for social journeys, they do not appear to have a particularly strong desire to make this change. Moreover, they do not see bus travel as an attractive option as it currently stands - they are put off by long-journeys, the need to change buses, perceived high fares etc. So in reality they say they would not use the bus any more than they currently do without some very major changes to bus services. Examples of views associated with this group include:

  • I mean to be honest ... I'd like the idea of not having a car and if you do want to get a bus here or a train there, but it would be just too far fetched, it's just the hassle what is involved in it. (Male, West Lothian, 30-44, Group 8)
  • A female participant from Dundee stated that they might get the bus if there was a more direct bus to their work, but acknowledged that 'I'd still be thinking, "Time. Time. Time. Time. Time"' and reiterated her view that the bus 'isn't as reliable as the car'. (Female, 30-44, Dundee Group 5).

6.15 Participants who might be described as 'willing to be convinced' also believed that substantial improvements are needed to current bus services in order for them to be able to use them. However, they also see some positives to bus travel and some problems with car travel. They therefore appear to have a greater desire to make the change to using buses more often if this were possible. As such, this group could be termed 'willing to be convinced' - with enough persuasion that they could make some journeys be bus, they are relatively more likely to at least give it a try. Examples of positives associated with bus travel included: believing it was more relaxing and less stressful than driving and enjoying socialising with others on the bus. These participants also discussed their desire to be 'green' and feeling guilty about driving their car because of this. The bus was seen as a more environmentally efficient mode of transport, because it meant fewer cars and less traffic. These attitudes are similar in many respects to Anable and Stradling's 'malcontented motorists' group. Examples of views associated with this group include:

  • A male participant in Dundee who said they would like to use the bus more in the future because it would save them money on their car, avoid parking difficulties and allow them to have drink. They would also like to use the car less because of the environment. However, he complained that the buses were too infrequent and too unreliable where he lived. (Male, 45+, Dundee, Group 6)
  • A male participant with mobility problems expressed a strong wish to use the bus to avoid having to drive long-distances, because he gets pains in his legs when driving. However, the bus stop was too far away from his house which made it difficult for him to access.
  • A female participant from Aberdeen who said she would like to use the car less to reduce repair bills, but still felt that the car was the quickest option for travelling to work: 'my husband's always saying `the suspension's gone again because of your driving' so I mean taking the bus would eradicate that but again it's just because it's the quickest and fastest way to get to the job.'

6.16 In practice, individual participants did not always fall completely clearly into one or other of these groups. For example, one participant appeared to straddle the first two groups in that he claimed to like the idea of using the car less, but felt the hassle involved would be too much. At the same time, he also felt attached to his car as a ' status symbol'. Neither were there very clear patterns in terms of the types of people who fell into each group. There was some tentative evidence that women and participants in urban areas were more likely to express interest in using the bus in the future, with participants in rural areas appearing more attached to their car. But equally, there were examples of people who fell into each group from across different geographic areas, genders and age groups, and from both the focus group and in depth interviews with disabled people.

6.17 Further (quantitative) research would be required to examine the proportions of different kinds of people who fall into each of these groups and draw conclusions about these patterns with more certainty. But the groups do usefully summarise groups of attitudes that did appear to coalesce with each other. Considering the different kinds and levels of motivations people may have for using buses in the future may assist policy makers in developing more appropriate incentives to bus use in the future. This point is discussed in the following chapter.

What would encourage people to use buses more in the future?

6.18 This report has identified a wide range of perceived barriers to increasing bus use among those who do not use the bus often or at all. This final section of findings discusses participants' suggested solutions to some of these barriers. Some of these suggestions may relate to actions that bus companies and councils have already taken, but of which our sample was unaware. Equally, there may be good reasons why some of these actions could not be taken. In addition, it should be remembered that although participants identified things that could make buses more attractive in general, we cannot be sure whether this would actually encourage them to use the bus more often. However, it remains important to understand what 'infrequent or non-bus users' believe might make the bus a more attractive option if policy makers and bus companies wish to entice them to use buses more often.


6.19 Ensuring drivers allow more time for passengers to sit down was a key issue for disabled participants. It was also suggested that drivers needed training to improve their awareness of the needs of individuals with mobility difficulties and around issues of discrimination. Improving drivers 'customer care' skills in general was raised by participants. It was also suggested that customer care might be improved if buses had conductors.

Other passengers

6.20 Concerns about other passengers centred on fear of anti-social behaviour or crime. This was a particular issue with respect to night time bus services. A key suggestion for tackling this and reassuring potential passengers was to (re)introduce conductors on some routes. Conductors could play a role in 'policing' passenger behaviour, as well as monitoring numbers getting on and off and preventing over-crowding. CCTV was also mentioned as something that might help some people feel safer, although another view was that it would not stop bad behaviour on buses but at least might help catch the perpetrators.

6.21 There was a general perceived need to increase ' respect' for bus services. One suggestion for promoting this was for bus companies to get more involved with communities and engage more with the young people who use buses. Heavier fines or penalties for people who litter, drink or smoke on the bus were also suggested.

Physical condition of buses

6.22 Suggestions for improving the physical condition of buses focused on improvements to cleanliness, comfort and safety, and included:

  • Cleaning buses (more) often
  • Having rubbish bins on buses
  • Replacing old buses with newer/better models
  • Introducing seatbelts on buses (to improve their safety)
  • Having toilets on board
  • General improvements to comfort on board - e.g. softer seats, air conditioning, something to rest feet on (mentioned by a disabled participant)
  • Improvements to the accessibility of buses for particular groups of passengers - e.g. handrails, more space for buggies
  • Better 'policing' of existing space for disabled people - e.g. preventing people putting shopping in wheelchair spaces.

6.23 It was suggested that WiFi on board buses would be useful, although one view was that this would not encourage use among people who did not already want to use them.

Bus stops

6.24 Concerns about bus stops centred on safety, information and comfort.

6.25 Suggestions for improving feelings of safety at bus stops included better lighting and help buzzers (like those found in some train stations).

6.26 Better use of information technology to tell you when the next bus was coming was seen as having the potential to reduce frustrating waits without knowing whether a bus is coming or not. However, as discussed in Chapter Four there was also a belief that Real Time Passenger Information ( RTPI) systems were not always accurate or reliable. Another suggestion was that stops should include touch-screens for people to find up to date information about routes, times and prices. Participants with disabilities suggested that timetables at bus stops needed to be clearer and printed in a larger font.

6.27 Comfort focused on ensuring that all stops had adequate shelters to protect people from the weather. However, another view was that having bus stops encouraged young people to ' linger', which could increase safety concerns.

Timing and timetables

6.28 As discussed above, a major barrier to bus travel was the perception that bus travel simply takes too long. Associated with this was the notion that you cannot rely on them to turn up on time. Indeed, participants used phrases such as 'if buses were more reliable...' and ' if you could gain some trust in the system' when describing the conditions under which they might use the bus more often. Ideas suggested by participants for resolving issues around speed and reliability included:

  • ' Better', ' longer' and even ' continual' bus lanes that would enable buses to bypass traffic queues, particularly within peak hours
  • Taxis should not be allowed in bus lanes
  • An increase in the number of express and direct services and/or a reduction in the number of stops on some routes. However, it was also suggested that park and ride facilities were not attractive because it was not worth stopping driving so close to the city centre.
  • More frequent buses and more standardised times - for instance, every 15 minutes, starting on the hour
  • Pay drivers incentives to arrive on time
  • A specific suggestion to encourage people to use the bus more for nights out was to extend night bus services so that they run until bars and clubs close at 3am.


6.29 As discussed above, a key suggestion for improving the speed of buses was simply to have more direct or express routes, particularly into city centres (mentioned both by city residents and those who live in small towns outside major cities).

6.30 Another complaint among participants was that if you did not use the bus often, you did not know which buses to get even when you could in principle use a bus. Ideas for making it easier for people to access route/timetable information included:

  • Displaying more information about routes and timetables in social places (e.g. bingo, cinemas), shops, hospitals, doctor's surgeries, etc.
  • Including routes/timetables in weekly papers
  • Delivering route/timetable leaflets door to door (particularly when these are changed)
  • Enabling people to check routes/timetables on their mobile phone, and
  • Providing a free number to call for bus information.

6.31 One suggestion from a rural area was that a proper bus station was needed so there is somewhere to go for information.

Fares and tickets

6.32 As discussed, bus travel was seen as expensive, particularly when making multi-stage journeys or travelling with other people. Suggestions for addressing this included:

  • Introducing a 'standardised' fare - one view was that a cheaper fare of around £1 to £2 would encourage participants to use buses in the future
  • Greater government subsidies for bus fares
  • Tax free travel allowances for those in employment
  • Increasing competition among companies (to bring fares down)
  • Introducing of 'off-peak' fares after 9am (as on the trains).

6.33 However, in terms of whether reducing fares would really encourage infrequent or non-bus users away from their cars, it is worth noting participants' responses to being asked whether free bus travel for a week would encourage them to use the bus. While one reaction was that this was a great idea, and would encourage participants to try the bus for leisure journeys or even for work, another view was that they might take advantage of the scheme for that week, but that it would not alter their current travel habits in the long-term.

6.34 Not knowing how much a bus would cost in advance of boarding was also an issue, as was the need to have exact change. Suggestions for addressing these barriers included:

  • More or clearer fare information at bus stops
  • Advanced purchase ticket machines that gave change and also accepted credit cards
  • Introducing systems like the London Oyster Card or the Hong Kong Octopus Card system, which allow users to top-up swipe cards and then travel when they want, without worrying about change or tickets expiring.

6.35 Being able to use tickets across different types of public transport (e.g. bus and train) was another attraction of the Oyster card. In general, it was suggested that a more ' joined up' service, that allowed you to use tickets on different bus companies and/or different modes of transport would be more attractive.

Disincentives to use cars

6.36 In general, there was not a great deal of spontaneous discussion about perceived disadvantages to car travel in the groups and interviews. However, interviewers did probe on whether some specific potential disincentives to car use - like congestion charges, higher petrol prices or increased parking prices - would encourage them to use the bus more. Responses to these were mixed. Among those who were most attached to their car, there was a feeling that they would just absorb these costs, or even cut down on other things to maintain their car rather than use the bus. One participant even said they would change jobs rather than get the bus if they were made to pay for parking. Other participants felt they might use the bus more if any of these changes were introduced, though it was also suggested was that people would rather walk than get the bus in these circumstances.

Key points

  • There was a general belief among employed participants that it would not be possible to use the bus to get to work.
  • Sometimes this appeared to be based in fairly specific knowledge of available bus services; in other cases, views appeared to reflect more general perceptions of the reliability or speed of buses.
  • There was some discussion of willingness to use the bus more often for social journeys or trips into town. Perceived barriers to doing so included time, hassle of changing buses, cost, infrequency, lack of certainty about routes/fares, lack of appropriate routes, timetables being unsuitable, and safety on night buses.
  • Three broad groups of attitudes to future bus use were apparent:
    • 'Bus refusers' - People who did not wish to use the bus more often under any circumstances, even if improvements were made
    • 'Bus pessimists' - People who, if pushed, say they would like to use the bus more often, but do not see it as an attractive option as it stands and do not appear to have a strong desire to make this change
    • 'Willing to be convinced' - People who would like to use the bus more and cite positive reasons for doing so (dislike of car travel and/or advantages to bus travel), but still think there are substantial barriers preventing them from doing so.
  • Suggested improvements to bus services which participants felt might encourage some people (though not necessarily themselves) to use the bus more often included:
    • Improved customer care skills for drivers (including improved awareness of the needs of passengers with disabilities)
    • Conductors on buses to prevent anti-social behaviour and overcrowding
    • General improvements to the physical condition of buses in order to improve comfort, safety and accessibility (e.g. seatbelts, rubbish bins, more regular cleaning, toilets, air conditioning, handrails, softer seats, etc.)
    • Improved lighting, shelters and information, including accurate 'Real time' information, at bus stops
    • Action to try and improve the speed and reliability of buses, including better/longer bus lanes, more direct/express routes, more frequent services at more standardised times and driver incentives for timekeeping
    • Better information about routes, timetables and fares, to be available in places other than bus stops
    • Cheaper and/or more 'standardised' fares
    • Introducing pre-pay or top-up card systems to pay for bus fares, to avoid the need for exact change or knowing how much a ticket will be in advance
  • Reactions to disincentives to car use were mixed - one view was that participants would simply absorb the additional costs of higher petrol prices, congestion charges or higher parking prices, while another was that this might encourage them to use the bus or walk instead of using the car for short journeys.
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