This paper explores the ways in which people use their travel-time on local buses, and explains how this knowledge can assist with efforts in many ‘auto-centric’ societies to make bus travel more attractive and encourage a shift away from excessive private car use. Framing the discussion around the concept of an ‘ideal bus journey’, this paper examines whether travel-time activities on-board the bus give subjective value to the journey experience. Particular attention is given to emergent mobile ICT technologies, which are rapidly reconfiguring the ways in which we can inhabit and use mobile spaces such as the bus.
This paper reports a novel mixed-methodology, creating a synthesised analysis of online discussions, focus groups, and a large-scale questionnaire survey of 840 bus users in Bristol, UK. The findings demonstrate that the bus is a very active space, with high levels of travel-time activity. The most popular activities on the bus are those related to relaxation and personal benefit, such as reading, listening to music, and browsing the internet. It is the passengers themselves that are largely in control of their in-vehicle experience, being able to craft a range of different positive journey experiences through travel-time activity. However, negative experiences are very common, and there is a need to challenge unfavourable public perception and media representations of bus travel to create a more positive cultural construction of the bus which would allow for the concept of an ‘ideal journey’ to be more easily realised.
Passengers are the main creators of their travel-time experience, however there is much that can be done by bus operators to facilitate different types of activity and encourage a desirable public space. The overarching message is that there is a distinct opportunity to unlock travel-time activity as a ‘Unique Selling Point’ of the bus. Creating a perception of the bus journey as a desirable piece of time will allow local bus services to compete with the car on their own terms, and assist with international efforts to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport for some trips.