Perceptions Key for Rural Public Transport

Rural Transport perceptionsThat everyone knows everything there is to know about public transport is a completely false perception. Yet much of what is proposed about public transport is based on such misperceptions not about the realities of supply and demand, particularly in rural areas. This was seen clearly in the Forest Inhabitants Travel Survey (FITS) undertaken as part of the MERGeS project.

The Survey Sample

FITS attracted 440 responses. 392 were complete and usable based on the single District of the Forest of Dean. Respondents were spread across the district. 74% respondents were working either full-time, part-time or self-employed. Overall compared to ONS data, it contains a broad cross-section of the population upon which to base firm conclusions.

The data was analysed as the whole or three aggregated categories of towns (the 4 towns), villages (the 20 major villages in the district) and hamlets (the remaining areas where there are houses but may not typically have a recognisable centre). That aggregation and the whole raises questions about many of the current assumptions about rural travel needs.

Consider Certainty First

For public transport to be more attractive, travellers need to know when it will arrive and that it will keep to schedule. Having a single ticket for the journey or a reservable seat are the least of their worries compared to these. Cost of ticket, not crowded and quality waiting areas are secondary to the timing.

When asked to rank 5 factors:

  • Time of arrival and departure is the highest. 40% ranked it first and 25% second.
  • Frequency of service is ranked second perhaps as a fallback to the first.
  • Affordability is ranked third with a split between those where it was the most important factor and those putting it bottom.
  • Towns are less concerned about time of day than other settlements, but overall, it was the fourth ranked.
  • 40% of respondents ranked no need to change between services last.

What Powers Change in Usage?

What would make bus services more attractive is that they go to more places. But provide and they will come is a commercially naïve approach. Give them the opportunity to book them and they will come provides certainty for the traveller and the operator.

19.2% of respondents were honest enough to say that nothing would make them use their car less. What would for the 80%, is bus services closer to destination (leaving and arriving), getting there on time and increased frequency.

Real Rural Transport Perceptions

Potential users need certainty of service and desire flexibility in the network that gets them where they want to go in a known timely manner. It does not need to be a direct service as the need to change is a recognised trade-off to create a functional network integrating with other transport networks. Fully understanding and resolving these supply perceptions and the population that use buses weekly will increase from its current c10%.


FITS was undertaken as part of Rural Techs MERGeS project funded by the Geospatial Commission’s Innovate UK SBRI competition: Using geospatial data to solve transport challenges phase 1. The Geospatial Commission & Innovate UK do not endorse any of the findings or positions.