Transport minister Norman Baker gave a full show of support to the launch of the Greener Journeys Lab comprising four new and innovative approaches to attracting people onto buses (6 March).
The Greener Journeys Behaviour Change Lab comprises four pilot schemes in four areas, each with its own twist on enticing people out of their cars and onto buses:
- Targeting drivers at moments of driving ‘pain’ in Sheffield
- Providing trusted, community-level, peer-to-peer advice in Leicester
- Four projects in Manchester focus on using community groups as messengers.
- Competition amongst sixth form students to think of ways to get people out of cars and onto buses in the North East
“I want to make the bus more attractive and it is positive to see operators challenging perceptions which wrongly, in my view exist,” said the Minister, addressing an audience of 50 attendees plus. “Perceptions of those who don’t use buses are based somewhere in 1963 when they last used a bus!”
Enthusiastic about the approaches advocated by the Lab, Baker commented: “This is new territory. The fact you are doing it in different parts of the country is very interesting and I look forward to the final analysis.”
Concluding, he said: “It is time to go on the offensive – the bus is a good way to travel and it is good to see this initiative: I wish it well.”
Greener Journeys’ chief executive Claire Haigh set out the context. “If we are to hit the 2050 targets on carbon reduction, we need to break car dependency,” she said. “Clearly for modal shift to happen, behaviour change has to be on the agenda.
“People lead busy lives and do make shortcuts and are very influenced by their surrounding factors. This is where the Greener Journeys Lab comes in.”
David Hall, director of the social enterprise – Behaviour Change – the driving force behind the pilot schemes, explained the thinking behind them and the influence of a meeting with the government’s ‘nudge unit’ which develops ways to improve public services through individual decision-making. “We looked at the role marketing has to be play – when allied with good bus services, good marketing has a big role to play.”
Sheffield driver pain
The Sheffield pilot scheme looked at the moment most likley to break driver habit – from paying for petrol to being stuck in a traffic jam. Joe Chetcuti, director of a marketing agency called Front emphasised the approach of “engaging travellers as intelligent people”.
“The underlying theme – smarter travel – emphasised that the bus wasn’t the last resort but is the right thing to do at certain times.”
‘Street teams’ of between two to four people went out to at various points around the city to engage drivers and offer them free travel in return for some data from them so modal shift can be tracked; also on offer was a £300 prize draw. They followed traffic wardens, camped outside petrol stations and also went to Sheffield United football ground where 50,000 or so people were “driving around in circles” to find parking.
The Manchester pilot scheme awarded grants to three organisations:
- Pure Innovations, which provides support to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, are encouraging and facilitating school pupils with learning difficulties towards independent travel via simple tools for them and their parents from workshops to assisted technology.“It’s about making buses accessible, looking at communications, problem-solving and ‘what ifs’,” said Pure Innovations director Nina Hinton.As well as producing an information pack for parents and children, they have invested in assisted technology which provides helpful reminders for those who struggle with reading bus signs or remembering journey sequences.
- Gaydio, a gay and Lesbian local radio station, led a consortium of five radio stations targeting a range of areas and communities, with a collective outreach of 200,00 people, culiminating in a ‘Get on Board Day’ with the offer of free bus tickets.“It came up with some really quirky stuff, from an older lady who likes to chat to people to a young person who likes not having to clean the bus after her kids mess it up,” commented Gaydio director, Ian Wallace. “All in all it was an exciting projects and talked from the perspective of the people we were trying to influence – not top down by driven by peers.”
- Saheli, which offers emotional and practical support, advice and refuge to Asian woman and children fleeing from domestic abuse, undertook a 12-week project advocating the independence to travel by bus alone as opposed to driving or taking lifts.
Leicester community ambassadors
Trusted advice from peer-to-peer, community level ambassadors was the keystone of the Leicester pilot where a team of people were recruited and trained to engage individuals in the local community to provide a personal rationale for using the car less and the bus more.
Trewin Restorick, CEO of Global Action Plan, compared the approach to singing at a school assembly, with a piano in the corner. “A few people would start singing which then gives permission to others to follow. So we wanted find our singers and we found 10 in Leicester.”
Ambassadors visited a range of locations from choirs and churches to snooker halls. “If you get the right people early on with a gentle level of support, you will go out and do it!”
One of the ambassadors, Adham Fisher, speaking at the launch and equipped with a 10-year knowledge of buses in Leicester, explained he listened to and noted what people like and don’t like about their bus services. “It has been a mixed bag but that can be a good thing,” he said.
“To tempt more people onto buses, network density and reliability has to be looked at. Overall it was a very positive scheme.”
Next, evaluative steps
Lynn Sloman, founder of Transport for Quality of Life who will be evaluating the results, concluded: “For us as evaluators, what has been interesting is the differences between what has been tried – differences in scale, duration and targeting.”