Strategic review of travel information

Project details

Full project title: Strategic review of travel information

Sponsor: Department for Transport

Project Manager: Professor Glenn Lyons

Project team: Dr Erel Avineri, Dr Sendy Farag and Reg Harman

Start date: January 2007

Finish date: September 2007

Project briefing sheet: Download the briefing sheet document (PDF)

Project report: Download the final project report (PDF)

Project summary

The availability of travel information to the public has changed dramatically in recent years with the arrival of the Internet and mobile telephony and communications. In the UK there has been a concerted transport policy effort in relation to travel information. In particular since its announcement by Government as a concept in 2000, Transport Direct has emerged as a major new service in the travel information marketplace - a national multi-modal web-based door-to-door journey planning service with real-time and mapping features. Research has been an important aspect of the development of Transport Direct.

Research goals

With the service itself well established, the Transport Direct Programme in 2006 wished to understand what developments had taken place in the broader field of travel information research from 2001 to date. This report sets out the findings of a review of such developments.

Literature review

The review has examined over 100 articles of international literature. The orientation of the review has principally been towards the (prospective) users of travel information (as distinct from considering technical 'back office' developments). Main themes considered are as follows:

  • understanding choice making
  • demand for informed choice making
  • behavioural consequences of information use
  • methodological issues.

A series of key points are drawn out under these themes:

  1. There is a range of decision-making approaches individuals take to journey planning - varying across individuals and for a given individual.
  2. 'Bounded rationality' highlights human tendency (for reasons of cognitive limitations and other constraints) to look for short-cuts to decision making - short cuts which can prove effective for the individual in terms of decision outcomes.
  3. Simply providing more information may not always improve decision making if people are naturally boundedly rational.
  4. Regret theory suggests people will only seek (more) information if they anticipate regret at the decision outcome given their current level of knowledge.
  5. This points to the significance of the 'cost' of becoming better informed in the context of weighing up the 'costs' of different travel options.
  6. Even when provided with information, people rely on and can (sometimes) overweight personal experience.
  7. Reliability and uncertainty of travel choice outcomes play a part in people's choice making and information is found to influence this in ways not necessarily expected.
  8. Habitual behaviour (apparently) inhibits the seeking of information.
  9. There is a social context to travel information use - people imitate, help and learn from each other instead of or alongside making use of formal information provision.
  10. In many cases only a minority (or at best a slender majority) of the public are aware of given information services - this may be an impediment to realising the demand for information.
  11. Demand for and use of information is significantly influenced by travel context - demand is higher where journeys are unfamiliar and/or unpredictable and/or time critical.
  12. The nature and amount of information demanded by individuals is influenced by their experience of the travel situations under consideration.
  13. Research continues to understand how demand for information is related to user characteristics but there are many different facets to characterisation: socio-demographic attributes; socio-psychological and cognitive factors; physical and mental processing abilities; and extents of experience (with travel and with travel decision making).
  14. Research continues to identify information content needs of specific types of individuals but this does not appear to relate to understanding on decision mechanisms: if more (apparent) information needs were met, information use might not necessarily increase (significantly).
  15. There remains a need for information being available through a range of (complementary) media (including more traditional printed media) in order to address a range of people (with differing characteristics and abilities) and contexts - meanwhile there is very little evidence of how media preferences are evolving over time (with the exception of some evidence of declining use of telephone services in the face of comparable web services).
  16. Meeting significant minority information needs could be very important to the affected groups and individuals.
  17. Willingness to pay continues to receive limited attention (and produce mixed results) although willingness to pay is generally deemed to be low (perhaps given the Internet culture of freely available information).
  18. In terms of information media, the radio (notable for car drivers) is (enduringly) dominant in its popularity though it is noted that it cannot service all types of information need and use.
  19. There is little or no coverage in the literature of the increasingly widespread and affordable availability of in-car satellite navigation systems.
  20. It is clear that most people, most of the time, do not consult travel information - however, in actual terms many people are using information for particular types of trips.
  21. There is (remains) a paucity of empirical insight into the behavioural consequences of information use.
  22. Recalling the low proportion of circumstances when information (from a 'formal' information source) is consulted, where consultation takes place it seems the most common consequence is that no change to travel results (although the potentially important confirmatory and 'feeling in control' value of such consequence must not be ignored).
  23. While findings are context specific, there is some evidence of the influence of information on mode choice, albeit that the scale of impact appears small overall (though the significance of the impact to the individuals concerned and the transport system overall is not clear nor is it clear how the scale of impact could change over time).
  24. Driver route choice has been a popular feature of the field of travel information literature - latterly, it has tended to be considered as a focus for experimental research exploring decision theories associated with risk and uncertainty and past experience.
  25. Journey scheduling and departure time effects of travel information use appear to have received very little if any focused attention in the literature.
  26. In a multi-method research field and with the complexity of the topic under study (reinforced by this review) there is need for research articles to apply clear caveats and (sometimes) health warnings to their results.
  27. The uncontrolled environment of the real world (as an alternative to experimental constructs) makes achievement of greater understandings highly challenging.

Research needs

In light of the review findings, a series of specific research needs are identified. These are not all necessarily specific to Transport Direct or deemed a priority for Transport Direct itself to address. However, a key message from the review is that much of the insight into how people make decisions, their demand for information and the behavioural consequences is context specific. As such most if not all of the following research needs may indeed be fruitfully examined in the specific context of the Transport Direct service:

  1. to understand why, in terms of decision mechanisms, people do make specific use of specific real-world information services;
  2. to explore individuals' cognitive limitations in interpretation and use of travel information and how these limitations can be addressed by travel information services;
  3. to understand how and why people's specific use of specific information services leads to effects (behavioural and psychological);
  4. to understand the social context in which information services 'perform' and thus how information is received and assimilated in the course of interaction with other people;
  5. to explore how the phenomenon of social imitation could be incorporated within the design of information services (through feedback data from users);
  6. to identify and better understand the non-users of information services who would most benefit from using information;
  7. to determine to what extent overall levels of information use of a given information service are dictated by types of individuals (more inclined to seek information) versus by types of journeys (more inclined to prompt an information need);
  8. to explore (new) information content and presentation (possibilities) in the context of their compatibility with decision theory;
  9. to identify what role printed media formats continue to play in travel decision making;
  10. to consider in depth, at the level of the individual, how information need and use evolves over time; and
  11. to specifically examine the effects and potential longer term consequences for travel choices and outcomes of in-car satellite navigation systems and other in-car travel information systems.