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You are here: Home >>  Taking Action >>  Public Transport >>  Why People Don't Use Buses And How To Overcome This

Why People Don't Use Buses And How To Overcome This


Some interesting work for the Scottish Government looked in depth at why some people don't use buses and what might encourage them to do so in the future.

These are just some of the issues that Travel Plan Coordinators may come across when encouraging employees to consider using buses. 




All participants were either infrequent or non-bus users and cars dominated their preferred form of transport to work. Reasons for preferring the car tended to relate to ‘convenience’ and ‘reliability’.

The researchers identified three groups according to how attached they were to their cars. They concluded that to convert those ‘Willing to be Convinced’ of the merits of bus travel (one of the three categories), Travel Plan Coordinators need to do three things:
  • Highlight the advantages of bus travel - both personal and environmental.
  • Challenge views of disadvantage – in particular the issue of journey time and reliability.
  • Make public transport travel easier (including providing greater information on fares, timetables and routes.

The website provides ideas and suggestions on how to get to grips with some of these important issues. See for example making bus and train information more accessible  and how to use buses.  Below is a summary of the Scottish Government's research.

The three opinion groups classified by the researchers were:

  • ‘Bus refusers’:  those that were strongly attached to their cars and did not wish to use the bus more often under any circumstances, even if substantial improvements were made.
  • ‘Bus pessimists’ who, if pushed, said they would use the bus more often but do not see it as an attractive option at the moment and don't have a strong desire for change.
  • And then those ‘willing to be convinced’ who'd like to use buses more and give positive reasons for doing so such as a dislike of car travel and/or personal barriers, and buses' environmental advantages. At the moment, this group's perception is that there are barriers preventing them from using buses.

For those trying to encourage bus use, the research raises a number of issues:

  • Firstly, there's a need to identify those who would be ‘willing to be convinced’ as opposed to ‘bus refusers’ and ‘bus pessimists’. Segmentation into the three broad bands might come as part of an initial travel planning exercise, but because this is a detailed study, it's more likely to need further work by the Coordinator once the travel plan is up and running.
  • Secondly, when those ‘willing to be convinced’ have been identified, it is a matter of understanding what might encourage them to use the bus. 
The research highlights the need to ensure that employees are aware of the services that are available locally, their frequencies, journey times and fares etc.
There may also be occasions where it is necessary to meet with the bus operators and  local authority transport representatives. Below are listed some examples of comments that potential bus users might want the Travel Plan Cordinator to raise with bus companies: 
  • Improved customer care skills for drivers (including improved awareness of the needs of disabled passengers).
  • 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.
  • Action to try and improve the speed and reliability of buses including more direct/express routes, more frequent services at standardised times and driver incentives for timekeeping.
  • Cheaper and/or more standardised fares.

Below are some issues that may be discussed with the local authority public transport officers:

  • 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.
  • In addition, either the local authority or most likely the bus operator will be able to advise on help with 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.

The barriers to bus use included the following. Remember, these were comments made by non bus users. Bus users would hopefully see Public Transport differently:

  • Poor bus driving behaviour and poor driving attitudes.
  • Concerns about other passengers committing anti-social or criminal behaviour, as well as more general concerns about other people’s behaviour causing annoyance or discomfort.
  • Fears about the physical condition of buses making them unsafe, unreliable or inaccessible (for participants with mobility problems), as well as concerns about cleanliness and comfort on board.
  • Concerns about personal safety, comfort and the adequacy of information at bus stops.
  • The perceived length of bus journeys, as well as the appropriateness of timetables for the journeys participants needed to make;
  • The belief that buses cannot stick to their timetables.
  • A perceived lack of direct and/or appropriate routes, as well as concerns about routes travelling through ‘undesirable’ areas.
  • A belief that fares are too high, as well as complaints about the inconvenience of having to find exact change.
In comparison with trains, buses were seen as less reliable, predictable, and safe. Information about stopping points both on-board trains and at stations was also considered to be clearer for trains than for buses. 
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