Discourses, Travel Behaviour and the ‘last Mile’. Applying Q Methodology in Ealing, London

Discourses, Travel Behaviour and the ‘last Mile’. Applying Q Methodology in Ealing, London


Giacomo Vecia, University College London, Bartlett School of Planning, Robin Hickman, University College London, Bartlett School of Planning


An in-depth survey is undertaken with 35 employees of a large employer in Ealing, London, using Q methodology, analysing travel behaviours and preferences. A particular focus on the ‘last mile’ discourse is taken.


Debates about sustainable travel can be analysed in discursive terms, yet there are few studies that use discourse analysis to better understand travel patterns and preferences. This paper presents the findings of a Q Study completed in Ealing, London investigating participant’s perceptions and opinions of their respective ‘last mile’ journeys. It also seeks to generate discussion and feedback on Q Methodology’s applicability in other transport studies.

Interviews were held with employees of a major employer in Ealing, London exploring travel preferences, behaviours, and the last mile of each participant’s home-to-work journey using Q methodology - a novel ‘quali-quantitative’ approach to discourse analysis that asks participants to rank discursive statements on a relative scale to identify patterns of opinions.


Identifying Unique Discourses

Four unique typologies or ‘belief coalitions’ – the Public Transport User, Committed Cyclist, Multimodal Traveller, and Frustrated Traveller – were uncovered through Q-Analysis of individual participant interview responses. These typologies can be understood as discrete perspectives within the Ealing last mile discourse and were used in deepening our understanding of last mile preferences within the study group. These discourses were then used to inform a wider discussion on travel behaviours and preferences in Ealing.

Q Methodology

The use of Q Methodology in generating meaningful data on travel preferences and perspectives is an emerging practice within transport studies. In this study, many participants found the practice “extremely engaging” and “unique” while it “…forced (them) to think deeply about the issues presented for ranking”. There is significant potential for Q Methodology to be applied in other areas of transport and travel studies, particularly when there are different views to be understood or some element of controversy to be explored.


Discourse analysis, including use of Q methodology, offers much potential for transport practitioners, as a parallel qualitative-quantitative approach, for use alongside the more conventional quantitative methods available to researchers. Discourse analysis allows us to understand the subtleties in people’s views on travel, potential new facilities and even the door-to-door journey and last mile. It can, in theory, give us a richness to our understanding that purely quantitative approaches often fail to achieve, particularly when these views rely on subjective experience and personal opinion. If we can further understand these types of nuances in discourse relative to sustainable travel options – and the coalitions of viewpoints that might appear in a particular context – then perhaps policy can be shaped to target particular cohorts much more effectively than the one-size-fits-all policy making that is conventionally used.

Key Words: sustainable travel, behavioural change, discourse analysis, Q methodology, last mile, door to door journeys


Association for European Transport