Priorities and Solutions For Road Travel: the Differing Perspectives of Users and Service Providers

Priorities and Solutions For Road Travel: the Differing Perspectives of Users and Service Providers


P Bonsall, J Beale, ITS, University of Leeds; N Paulley, A Pedler, TRL Ltd, UK



This paper reports the findings of a major investigation that aimed to gather evidence on peoples? experiences of problems on Britain?s roads; to assess their level of support for measures aimed at solving these problems; to establish how well transport professionals appreciate users? expectations; to identify any gaps between users? expectations and their current experience; and to determine what steps can be taken to reduce those gaps by considering potential barriers. The paper presents results from questionnaires completed by almost 3,000 members of the public, employees of government organisations responsible for transport, and drivers and operators in the freight and bus industries.

People were asked to indicate the extent to which various issues were problems ?for users of Britain?s roads? and ?for themselves personally?. A striking finding was that respondents regarded all the specified issues as significantly less of a problem for themselves than for other people; suggesting, perhaps, that problems on Britain?s roads may not be as serious as is generally assumed. The type of problems for which this discrepancy in perception is most marked (e.g. car crime, ?the school run?, congestion) lends weight to the suggestion that intensive coverage of transport problems by the popular media may have contributed to an exaggerated perception of the seriousness of transport problems.

The issues identified by the public were compared with those identified by representatives of the service providers - with a distinction being made between their personal view as transport professionals, and the priorities of the authority or agency for which they work. Comparison of the results suggested that service providers imagine road users to experience more problems with high profile issues (e.g. ?school run? traffic) or politically correct issues (e.g. inadequate public transport), and to have fewer problems with issues that are directly attributable to the actions of ?the authorities? (e.g. the high cost of petrol/parking/fares and poor maintenance of road surfaces) than the road users themselves report. We also noted that the professionals thought that their employers? priorities among potential remedial measures differed from their own.

Comparison of the level of support for various remedial measures given by different groups revealed some predictable differences with the public generally favouring interventions that facilitate car use (e.g. more roads, more restriction of freight traffic), the professionals favouring measures that restrict and control car use (e.g. congestion charging, more parking enforcement), freight drivers/ operators wanting better roads and specialist facilities for freight, and bus drivers/operators wanting more bus-friendly road networks and land-use patterns and more influence on the planning process. The surveys allowed us not only to quantify the size of these differences but also to explore the extent to which the perception of problems and support for solutions differs according to the respondent?s background. Perhaps the most important findings were that, unless appropriately re-weighted, surveys are likely to under-represent the opinions of less vocal groups in society and that, after allowing for this, there was much more public support for restrictions on unsafe, aggressive or anti-social driving than is often assumed.

This paper addresses several questions raised by our findings including: whose opinions count or should count; the possibility that current policy priorities are influenced by inaccurate assumptions about what the public would find acceptable; and the role of public opinion, media pressure and professional judgement in the process of political decision-making.


Association for European Transport