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Millbrook 2019
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May 09 2019
By Westminster Watcher

Our man based in Westminster is a seasoned political watcher follows the implications on the coach, bus and minibus industry of debates and decisions being made by politicians both in London, as well as the devolved regions. The nature of his role and contacts means he has to remain anonymous, as he keeps his finger on the political pulse...

Is it time to tackle buses' perception problem?

Research conducted by the rail industry has revealed that a perception problem surrounds buses. Is it time to tackle it? Yes, says our Westminster man, although some of the views expressed are ‘ridiculous’

A perception problem exists relating to buses. Should it be addressed?

A week or so ago, the Williams Rail Review published the results of some focus group work undertaken to establish people’s understanding of the structure of the rail industry and how it is funded, and their general attitude towards the railway.

Quite why research was needed is lost on me. It’s obvious that the level of understanding about the rail industry’s structure and who is responsible for what is low. As for people’s attitudes towards the railway, I can’t imagine that it’s anything other than generally negative.

Be that as it may, the reason for mentioning this is that one of the issues put to the focus groups was the merit of travelling by train compared to bus.

The results showed that while the bus was seen as cheaper, it was also viewed as being “significantly slower and less reliable.” Bus travel was also seen as carrying a “significant stigma, making it undesirable.”

Bus travel was also regarded as being less safe, “due to the types of behaviour from people that they would expect to meet on a bus” – louts, thugs and other undesirables, presumably.

One-sided story

As I’ve said before, surveys only ever tell one side of a story. I would guess that those participating in the focus groups have either never, or only very rarely, travelled by bus. As a result, the views expressed about the desirability of bus travel are unlikely to be based on experience and so they will be ill-informed. It’s tempting, therefore, to ignore them.

But if I were in charge of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), I would want to take on this issue and rebut those assertions. Of course, it was Margaret Thatcher who once allegedly said that anyone travelling on a bus who is over the age of 25 was a failure. That is, of course, nonsense.

It’s also absurd to think that travelling by bus is less safe because of the “undesirable types” that use them. Are there really no such equivalent people travelling on trains? The whole thing is ridiculous.

Challenge prejudices

But these prejudicial attitudes about bus travel clearly exist. Many people do hold such ridiculous views and do see bus travel as an inferior mode of transport.

There is no point denying it, or somehow brushing aside these views as ill-informed nonsense. If it is what people think, the bus industry needs to take it on the chin and do something about it. There may not be much that the industry can do about the perception that bus travel is slow, but it certainly can do something about the stigma issue and the perception that bus travel is less safe.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the new CPT CEO deals with this. Perhaps it’s his first challenge. As he is skilled in strategic communications and stakeholder engagement, I can’t think of anyone who is better qualified to take it on.

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