Customer Participation in Public Transport Planning: Conceptual Issues and Experiences

Customer Participation in Public Transport Planning: Conceptual Issues and Experiences


M Schiefelbusch, J Schmithals, Nexus Institute, DE


Due to monopolies in and political influence on public transport, dedicated measures are necessary to secure customer-oriented service. Permanent and case-specific consultation strategies are analysed as a way of user involvement and representation.


The mass provision of public transport services in cities started as a private business, but has now been provided for decades either by public sector companies or by operators working under licences granted by public authorities and hence under monopoly conditions. As a result, typically only one service provider is available to satisfy a particular transport need fixed by route, time and additional service requirements. Consequently, customers cannot express dissatisfaction with the service on offer by switching to another operator, hence market pressure as the key incentive to orientate the service to the users? needs is missing. This has left them in a weaker position than consumers of most other services where alternatives are available.
On the other hand, political influence on service planning, provision and funding has always been strong. As a result, passengers could seek to influence service provision by means of the political process either through lobbying activities or by using the role of political authorities as the owners of service providers. However, this approach is indirect and time-consuming. In addition, the greater role of competitive tendering and service contracts between local authorities and service providers will reduce the possibilities for such influence if no accompanying measures are taken.
Therefore the integration of the user?s views with the planning process is not guaranteed by this market structure. Hence there is a need for provisions which allow passengers to express their interests directly, efficiently and timely manner at all stages of the planning and production process.
The main institutions traditionally involved in the planning of transport services are the operator?s planning department and the local authority, both as a political body and through its administrative functions. Two main approaches have evolved to give a voice to (potential) users: First, a case-by-case strategy of consultation with user organisations or individuals which may be formal or informal in character and can also combine several elements. Second, the establishment of permanent institutions with the explicit or implicit task to represent customers.
The presentation is based on material collected mainly on national level, but comparisons with the situation in other European countries (e.g. Rail Passengers Council in the UK, project-based consultation in France, public consultation of timetables in Switzerland) will be possible as well:
? extensive desk research on participative procedures and their application in transport planning
? expert interviews with stakeholders from both sides
? a survey of passenger advisory boards (?Fahrgastbeiräte?) of which approx. 100 exist in Germany either within the operator?s organisation or as open consultative institutions. One 'Fahrgastbeirat' that was examined will be presented as an example for best practice. It is the case study of a passenger advisory board that has been implemented by a transport operator seriously interested in learning from the passengers advice.
? an in-depth review of the planning process for the re-organisation of the bus and tram network in Berlin during 2004. In addition to the usual consultation with stakeholder groups, the operator also sought views on several planning issues directly from the public for the first time.
These data will allow a comparative assessment of the two strategies and outline their strengths and weaknesses. The direct influence of a particular vote on the final result is often hard to define, but a series of criteria for good practice in user involvement can be identified and will be used to suggest suitable areas for the implementation of the various approaches.
The paper is based on a project on the role of the user in public transport sponsored by the Volvo Research Foundation (see in German). A paper by the author on the different aspects of this subject is due to appear in ?Transport Reviews? (presumably vol. 25 no.3) before the AET conference.


Association for European Transport