Rail passengers' travel time use in Great Britain

Project details

Full project title: Rail passengers' travel time use in Great Britain - a comparison between 2004 and 2010

Sponsor: Faculty of Environment and Technology (now known as College of Arts, Technology and Environment), UWE Bristol

Project manager: Professor Glenn Lyons

Project team: Professor Glenn Lyons, Dr Juliet Jain, Dr Yusak Susilo and Professor Steve Atkins

Start date: June 2010

Finish date: September 2011

Project summary

In 2004 the Centre for Transport and Society (CTS) undertook a major study into 'travel time use in the Information Age'. As part of this it designed a series of questions relating to travel time use for inclusion in the Autumn 2004 National Rail Passenger Survey. The results of this have been published and widely cited - see Lyons, G., Jain, J. and Holley, D. (2007). The use of travel time by rail passengers in Great Britain. Transportation Research, 41(A), 107-120.

In 2010 CTS was successful in securing inclusion of some of these questions again in the Autumn 2010 National Passenger Survey. Accordingly this project, with support from UWE Bristol in terms of internally funded staff time, has sought to obtain insights into rail passengers' travel time use in 2010 and to provide a comparison of findings between 2004 and 2010.

Two full papers reporting and discussing the findings have been completed. A summary paper (PDF) is available.

Project findings

Empirical evidence is presented based on sample sizes of 22,866 and 19,715 for 2004 and 2010 respectively. Questions examine how rail passengers spend their time, how worthwhile they consider their time use to be, the extent of advance planning of their time use and how equipped for time use they are in terms of the items they have to hand when they travel.

The results reveal a consistent dominance of reading for leisure, window gazing and working/studying as favoured travel time activities. Over the six-year period, availability and use of mobile technologies has increased - in some cases very substantially. Listening to music in particular has doubled in its incidence, suggesting an increasing capacity for travellers to personalise the public space of the railway carriage.

Most notably the analysis reveals a substantial increase in identification of positive utility of rail travel time - the proportion of travellers overall making very worthwhile use of their time has gone up by a quarter; meanwhile compared to 2004 there has been a 37% reduction in the proportion of business travellers indicating their time on the train was wasted. The study draws attention to the significance of such survey findings to the ongoing debate concerning how travel time and in turn travel time savings are valued in economic appraisal. This is pertinent to the UK at present as it considers the case for multi-billion pound investment in high-speed rail.

A presentation of the findings (PDF) was delivered at the CTS 'Symposium on travel time use, value and experience' on 15 June 2011.

A submission of evidence (PDF) has also been made on request to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee for its Inquiry into High Speed Rail.