Keeping Busy While Traveling: Evidence for Travel-based Multitasking from Belgium

Keeping Busy While Traveling: Evidence for Travel-based Multitasking from Belgium


Dr. Imre Keseru, Vrije Universiteit Brussel - MOBI Research Centre, Prof. Cathy Macharis, Vrije Universiteit Brussel MOBI Research Centre, Tan Dat Ton, Vrije Universiteit Brussel


The paper presents results of an observational survey focusing on travel-based multitasking in Brussels, Belgium.


In the last 15 years an increasing number of studies argued that the disutility that we attach to travel time in transport appraisal can be reduced by attributing productive or enjoyable activities to journeys. The increasing use of information and communication technologies (ICT) allows many ways of multitasking while travelling. Accounting for these activities and their benefits to the travellers may fundamentally change the way travel time is valued in the assessment of transport projects and policies. In order to do so, however, we need empirical evidence about the prevalence, type, duration and utility of such activities.

This paper presents the results of an empirical survey carried out on public transport vehicles in Brussels. The aim of the survey was to identify if socio-demographic characteristics, travel distance and level of crowdedness have an impact on the type and duration of activities performed on board with special attention to the use of ICT devices (smartphones, music players, mobile phones, tablets etc.). Structured observation was used to conduct the survey of 1216 passengers (bus, tram and metro) in May 2016. The data was analysed using logistic regression.

The results show that “talking with other passengers”, “doing nothing and/or gazing out of the window”, “messaging” and “listening to music or radio” are the most popular multitasking activities performed. In contrast, the activities “working”, “sleeping and/or take a nap”, “browsing on iPads, tablets” and “studying” were seldom performed. In terms of using ICT devices, the longer the distance is, the higher the probability is for people to send messages. Moreover, people travelling in group are less likely to send messages. Crowdedness of the entire trip do not directly have a significant influence on the two most popular types of multitasking activities using ICT devices which are messaging and listening to music or radio. The transport mode can also influence the frequency that the passengers interact with their ICT devices.

The findings from this study suggest that ICTs are increasingly used for multitasking while travelling. Having a better perspective on how passengers using public transport spend their time while travelling and the extent that they interact with ICTs might open a new horizon for policy makers and transport operators to improve service quality and improve customer satisfaction, which might in turn increase its modal share.


Association for European Transport