Development Department Research Programme
Young People and Transport
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This study seeks to gain an understanding of young people's views, opinions and their experiences of public transport, through qualitative interviews with young people, depth interviews with transport providers, and follow-up work with young people to gauge reactions to potential solutions. By comparing and contrasting the views and experiences of those living in different areas, both urban and rural, the research will identify how current transport provision shapes their lives and propose recommendations on how best to improve and promote public transport for young people in Scotland.
- Perceptions of public transport evolve as young people get older.
- Operators do not view young people as a target audience because they are not seen as being a particularly profitable market.
- The reliability of services is key to young people's opinions of them. There is a perception that buses in particular are unreliable in terms of keeping to their printed timetables.
- The cost of travelling on public transport can be substantial if a journey requires changing buses, whether or not this involves using different bus companies.
- Young people travelling on their own often feel very self-conscious - there is a heightened sense of awareness of the other passengers.
- If their parents use public transport, it is more likely that young people will find this an acceptable mode of transport.
- School buses are perceived as being old and poorly maintained. They also have an image of being heavily vandalised.
- The introduction of the American Yellow School Bus is seen as one positive option.
MORI conducted a total of sixteen focus groups and six paired depth interviews with young people (aged between 12-22) across Scotland. MORI also conducted a further nine telephone depth interviews with managers of public transport services and heads of transport or education departments in Local Authorities. The fieldwork was conducted between November 2001 _ March 2002.
Young Peoples Current Use and Experience of Public Transport
Younger teenagers (those aged between 12-14) tend to view public transport as being 'exciting' and 'fun'. They enjoy the independence that public transport offers them and view their actual journeys as part of the excitement of the whole trip, rather than a way of getting from A to B.
Once a little older (aged 15-17) there is a sense that freedom and independence starts to mean something else, and in particular is expressed through the opportunity to stay out late at night, rather than simply being able to travel independently. By this stage, such independence is taken for granted. For this reason, this aspect of the attraction of public transport wains, and public transport is more likely to be seen as a practical necessity.
The third phase dominates once young people are able to gain a licence, at 17-22. For these people, public transport is used, and cherished, less and less, and its only real attraction is one of cost.
Public transport is used for going to work or college in the urban areas. Here, young people have a choice of transport services and the main reason for choosing one form over another is speed and reliability. Trains are generally favoured over buses, however they are seen as being more expensive but the speed and reliability of the train outweighs the cost. Similarly, the fact that a young person may have to walk to the station or walk from the station does not tend to bother them because of the time they have saved by using the train.
School buses are seen as being 'rowdy', 'noisy' and 'unruly'. It is universally recognised that trouble on the buses comes from young people, mainly smoking and fighting. This is off-putting for young people as well as other travellers. School buses are perceived as being old and poorly maintained. They also have an image of being heavily vandalised.
Yellow American school buses are perceived as being an improvement on the current service provision in several ways. This is largely because there is a perception that the buses are used solely for school children and therefore separating the school children from commuters on public services. Furthermore, young people imagine that if the driver was employed by the school, and would therefore be a member of staff, then trouble such as fights, vandalism and smoking would be reduced. Some younger teenagers, who know about the buses from American films, think that the buses pick children up from their homes and take them back, providing a 'door-to-door' service.
Perceptions of the school bus from those in urban areas differ from those with a school bus in rural areas. There was a feeling that there were not enough buses for the school children in the urban areas, and therefore criticism of the buses being over crowded so that children are not always guaranteed a place. Those with a school bus in rural areas are generally happier with the service.
Managers of bus services and those who work for Local Authorities are aware that the buses used for school buses tend to be old buses. They all highlight the main reason to be cost. The use of buses for schools is regarded as a non-profit venture. Therefore, rather than using modern new buses for the school on a non-profit run, bus companies use the older buses that have already 'paid their way'. One service provider did comment, however, that the positive aspect of this was that the older buses tend to be the most reliable and easiest to repair.
Role of the Car
In many households, there is an assumption on the part of parents that journeys will be in the family car, not on public transport. Thus, most young teenagers (aged 12-15) rely on their parents to drive them to and from places, whether it is after school activities or at the weekends/in the holidays. Young people, therefore, absorb the view of the convenience and comfort of the car, and generally see it in a more positive light than public transport.
The reliance on the family car to 'ferry the kids around' results in lower familiarity with public transport. While parents will generally continue to use their cars to deliver and collect their children until their early teens, after this they gain their independence by travelling alone. However, by this stage, the relative 'attractions' of the car are firmly established, and once they have the option of getting a driving licence, they start aspiring to the convenience of being able to go where-ever and when-ever they want, just like their parents have always been able to do.
Reasons for choosing to take the car over use of the public transport vary. Some feel that they have no choice, especially those who live in rural areas; the local services either do not run from where they live or will not get them to work or college in time. Some take the view that if they were to use public transport, it would take them up to three times as long to get to their work as it does by car. In those circumstances, people feel, public transport is just not an option.
Safety of Travelling on Public Transport
Young people from the age of 11 or 12 have often experienced travelling on public transport on their own. However, they sometimes feel uncomfortable being on their own on public transport, and this is enhanced in the evenings. Girls tend to be more wary than boys. Anxiety about other passengers causes concern. There is a sense that 'weirdos' and 'drunks' use the services, particularly in the evenings and at night. Young people feel vulnerable in these situations, and fear that the 'drunk' or 'weirdo' will see the young person on their own and will sit next to them and try and talk to them even though there may be other spare seats. Not only are there clear implications for personal safety, but a deeper message about the perception of young people about the kind of people they might encounter on public transport.
Young People's Image of Public Transport, their perceptions and attitudes
Buses are perceived in a positive way in several respects, particularly in terms of cost (not necessarily per-trip, but in respect of purchase, tax, insurance, MOT etc), some aspects of convenience (no need to find parking space), less stressful, environmentally friendly, gives younger teenagers a sense of freedom and independence.
However, buses are also perceived as being slow, unreliable and dirty. Trains are seen as being more reliable because of strict time-tabling and frequency.
Views of Public Transport Operators/Providers
Younger teenagers who go to school (aged 12-16) are entitled to half fare on buses and trains and mainly travel during peak times. For this reason, service operators tend to regard younger teenagers as passengers who are taking up valuable space at peak periods, when premium prices for adults are charged and services are busy.
Operators often have a fatalistic view of young people too. They feel that as soon as a young person has access to a car (aged 17+), they will stop using public transport. These people are seen as being 'lost' to public transport until they reach an age when they qualify for concessionary fares, and managers, therefore, do not see any advantages in promoting their services to this age group (aged 17-22).
It is perhaps safe to say that while all the suggestions from young people for improvements to public transport may be technically feasible, the cost, time and investment implications have to be weighed up against actual increase in use and profit.
A few improvements can probably be considered that do not necessarily need a lot of investment, for example, cleanliness and upkeep of buses in particular.
There are some suggestions that are already being implemented and invested in. Modernisation of stock is investment that is currently taking place and so this can be classed as a suggestion that is feasible. Accuracy of timetables with the implementation of 'real-time' is being used to a limited extent and is quite probably also a feasible suggestion. This system however, comes with warning bells, as it is currently viewed as being inaccurate and therefore may not be a feasible solution just yet. The introduction of American Yellow School buses is in its piloting stage here in Britain and depending on the successes of the pilots this too could be a feasible option.
Further suggestions will need a certain level of investment:
- Music on trains (in one compartment).
- Introduction of bus conductors (increase speed, competitive advantage, safety).
- More frequent late night and Sunday bus and train services (along with a more thorough assessment of demand).
- Assessment of current price reductions and offers for young people. Try and make offers/reductions the same across the board and make it less complicated for young people to have the reductions. Government influence may be necessary with this option.
- More offers/ticket price reductions for young people in the holidays/weekends/evenings.
To achieve a more sustained usage of public transport from young people we have to look into the reasons why a car is so attractive to young people at the ages of 17+. It is hard to believe that (especially in urban areas, where parking is at a premium, there is congestion and there is strict enforcement of drink driving laws) young people still prefer to use a car.
It all comes down to the reliability and frequency of services. If we are to improve the image of public transport in young people's eyes we not only have to better maintain buses, but also prove that the services are going to arrive and depart at the times advertised.
Young people use services if they are deemed popular, like any current fashion. Recommendation and reliability bring about popularity on services. The providers therefore have to weigh up investment with profit that will ensure long term gain.
Young people tend to follow the behaviour patterns of their parents and are influenced by their opinions and attitudes. If parents attitudes towards public transport can be identified then it may be possible to infer the resulting attitudes displayed by young people. We, therefore, suggest that further research among parents of young people, particularly those in urban areas who have access to all the main modes of transport, is conducted to assess their attitudes towards using public transport in an every day context.
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