Perceptions and barriers to bus use


Perceptions of Buses and Bus Use

All respondents were asked to what extent they/their child would agree or disagree with a range of statements related to buses and bus use. Over half of those who provided a rating agreed that buses were environmentally friendly (59%), although respondents were also concerned about viruses (such as COVID-19, flu, etc.) spreading on board (54%). The areas respondents were most likely to disagree with related to affordability (with 42% disagreeing that buses are affordable), and that the routes available meet their current needs (33% disagreed here).

Figure 7: Perception of Bus Use
Decorative chart - Perceptions of Bus Use.

The secondary data analysis also looked at views from people who had recently used the bus. Feedback from the 2019 Scottish Household Survey showed satisfaction was fairly high with all aspects of bus travel. It showed that just over half (55%) thought that fares were good value and (56%) agreed that buses were environmentally friendly, while 81% felt buses were clean.

Personal Safety Issues

Respondents were also asked about their/their child’s personal safety with regards to bus use.

It is important that the results in this section are considered in context. The issue of safety is not restricted to buses alone, with other research highlighting that this is a wider issue for public transport, and other aspects of society, more generally.

Data from the Scottish Household Survey shows that twice as many women than men disagree that they feel safe and secure on the bus and train in the evening, and that twice as many women than men cite ‘concerns for personal safety on dark/lonely roads’ as a barrier to cycling to work. A 2018 report for the International Transport Forum discusses safety for women when using trains is an issue across many countries. In addition, UK data from the UK Government Equalities Office shows that:

  • Of those who had experienced sexual harassment in the last 12 months, 28% had experienced this on public transport
  • 72% of women were worried about experiencing sexual harassment on public transport, compared to 40% of men, and
  • 62% of women reported changing their behaviour in relation to public transport to avoid sexual harassment, compared to 35% of men

Safety by Time of Day

Firstly, respondents were asked whether they/their child felt safe using buses during the day and at night. Of those who provided a rating, respondents generally felt safer during the day than at night/in the dark. Indeed, 82% felt safe always or often during the day, while only 2% never felt safe. Meanwhile, at night/in the dark, nearly a quarter (24%) never felt safe, 39% only sometimes felt safe, and 37% always or often felt safe.

Figure 8: Safety Concerns by Time of Day
Figure 8: Safety Concerns by Time of Day. As described in text.

Safety Concerns – Demographic Analysis

  • Night time travel - females and those who identified as either trans, non-binary or in another way were less likely to indicate that they felt safe using the bus at night either always or often, and were more likely to state that they never felt safe using the bus at night compared to males.
  • Daytime travel - differences were far less pronounced.
Sexual Orientation
  • Night time travel - straight/heterosexual respondents were slightly more likely to feel safe always or often when travelling at night, while LGBT young people were slightly more likely to say they felt safe only sometimes or never.
  • Daytime travel - there were no statistically significant differences.
  • Night time travel - those whose activities were limited due to a health issue were less likely to note feeling safe/secure travelling on buses either always or often, and more likely to only feel safe sometimes or never, compared to those who were not limited in this way.
  • Daytime travel - those who were limited in their activities were again less likely to say they always felt safe, and were more likely to say they sometimes felt safe compared to others.
  • Night time travel - differences were not statistically significant.
  • Daytime travel - those from black and other ethnic minority groups were more likely to indicate that they always felt safe compared to those from white ethnic groups, while white respondents were slightly more likely to select all other response options compared to those from black and other ethnic minority groups.

Similarly, the secondary data analysis showed that respondents were less likely to agree that they felt safe/secure travelling on buses at night compared to daytime travel - 69% agreed they felt safe at night compared to 93% who felt safe during the day (Scottish Household Survey, 2019).

Respondents to the current survey, who indicated they only sometimes or never felt safe using buses either during the day or at night/in the dark, were asked to explain why. Overall, 7,362 respondents provided a substantive response, with their concerns covering all aspects of bus travel, including travel to/from the bus stop, waiting at bus stops, and travelling on-board.

For some, the age of the child and a sense that it would not be safe for them to travel alone, or that they would not feel confident/safe travelling alone, was their main concern. Others noted that having a disability or autism, ADHD, sensory issues, anxiety etc. meant that they/their child did not feel safe/secure travelling on the bus. Others mentioned that they/their child either did not like travelling in the dark and/or alone:

He is autistic and thinks bad things will happen, especially if the bus is too crowded or loud.”
He is disabled… and is very conscious of being in public spaces.”
I struggle with social anxiety, I particularly find the bus unsafe if I'm travelling really late at night or in an area I’m unfamiliar with.”

A range of other issues were noted. Key concerns included exposure to anti-social behaviour and bad language, witnessing or being personally subjected to bullying or harassment, there being ‘gangs’ on-board, and being exposed to those under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or those potentially carrying weapons/knives. The perpetrators of such negative experiences were considered to include groups of children or teenagers, as well as individual/groups of adults:

In the evening, you are more likely to be met with people under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol which is intimidating.”
Just because I'm young, and when its dark, it tends to be drunk and uneasy people getting on and I'm not sure anyone would help if something happened.”
Larger groups, kids and teenagers make loud noise, showing off, bullish, using bad language, anti-social behaviour.”

While most did not indicate whether this was based on experience or a perception a few did provide clarification, with some noting it was purely a perception, and others basing their response on previous experiences:

Had a bad experience with drunk people shouting at me and my friends.”
Had experience with a group of kids picking on him on the bus.”

There were also a large number of respondents who expressed concerns over the personal safety of females. This was partly due to perceptions and fears fuelled by recent events and media coverage, however, some also outlined personal experiences which made them more aware of/fearful over their safety:  

I am a teenage girl therefore being anywhere with strangers at night is a risk, I would have to walk in the dark from the bus stop to my home which feels unsafe and the bus itself also may have individuals that make me feel uncomfortable.”
I am a young female who has to travel on the bus by myself at night. I feel extremely vulnerable and uncomfortable sometimes.”
I am biologically female, and I am often cat-called or touched inappropriately by creepy guys at night.”
I am a young woman who often gets leered at and sexually assaulted because people (generally people presenting as male) think it’s okay.”

For a few, there was a double impact of being female and having other protected characteristics:

I am a woman and I am gay so have often been a target of abuse from strangers. I’m the type of person to shrug it off and deal with it however my girlfriend is not, it makes me dread getting on a bus with her when I see it’s busy because I know how nervous it makes us and how likely it is for something to happen again.”
I [am] openly disabled, gay, autistic and female. I worry I will be harassed or assaulted.”

Respondents from other minority groups also indicated that their personal characteristics meant they had experienced negative behaviour:

“I am in an ethnic minority group and sometimes are the target of intimidating drunk people waiting for the bus.”
“I have been verbally abused on the bus before on a number of occasions - when I was younger, a man once physically tried to pull me out of the Priority Seat when I would not stand up for an older person (this person did not have a mobility aid and other seats on the bus were available, whilst I have a mobility aid and cannot stand on a moving bus without falling or becoming unsteady on my feet)… As a person who is perceived as a woman, and as a visibly disabled person, I do not feel safe on buses.”

COVID-19 was also noted as a concern for some around bus travel currently, with respondents worried about the lack of mask wearing and about catching the virus from other passengers:

“I don't feel safe using the bus because COVID-19 could spread and my sister is vulnerable. I could catch it and pass it on to someone.”

There was also a sense among some, that the driver either cannot see what is going on (as they are driving) or that the driver and other passengers would not intervene to address any negative behaviour - indeed several indicated this had been the case in their own situations. This contributed to the perceived lack of safety/security on board buses. However, a few respondents did note that drivers were good at supporting young service users and putting them at ease:

“Lack of a conductor on the bus means that peoples bad behaviour is largely left unchecked. The driver cant effectively monitor passengers at the same time as driving the bus or don't confront the poor behaviour.”

Other concerns raised by respondents included that services were often busy/ overcrowded, with several also noting a lack of seatbelts on-board.

Experiences of Bullying or Discrimination on Buses

Respondents were also asked if they/their child or their friends/family had ever experienced bullying or discrimination when travelling on the bus, such as having seen or been the target of racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. Of the 16,701 who provided a response, 18% indicated that they had, 65% had not, and 17% did not know.

The disaggregated results show, that across all minority groups, respondents were more likely than the average for the survey as a whole, to have experienced bullying or discrimination while travelling on buses.

Experiences of Bullying/Discrimination on Buses – Demographic Analysis

  • Slightly more females (17%) than males (15%) indicated that they had experienced bullying or discrimination on-board buses.
  • Those who identified as trans, non-binary or in another way were significantly more likely to note they had had such negative experiences - 45% indicated they had experienced bullying or discrimination when travelling on the bus.
Sexual Orientation
  • Those (aged 16+) who identified their sexual orientation as either gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or in another way were considerably more likely to indicate that they had experienced bullying or discrimination while travelling on buses - 43% compared to 18% of those who identified as straight/heterosexual.
  • Those whose activities were limited due to a health issue or disability were more likely to flag that they had experienced bullying or discrimination compared to those who were not limited in their day-to-day activities (32% and 16% respectively).
  • Those from black and other minority ethnic groups were more likely to indicate that they had experienced bullying or discrimination compared to those from white ethnic groups (25% and 17% respectively).

Those who had had such an experience were also asked (where they felt comfortable) to describe the experience. While several indicated that they did not want to share their experiences, 2,713 respondents provided a substantive response.  

Several simply outlined either who had been the victim (themselves, friends or family members, the bus driver or other passengers) or perpetrator (typically other passengers, although some did suggest the bus driver had been inappropriate) of the bullying or discrimination, while others provided more detail about the nature of the incident(s). This involved general bullying, often (but not exclusively) from other children/young people - including both verbal and physical abuse, and was sometimes said to be linked to the person’s appearance (i.e. hair style/colour, wearing glasses, clothing brands, etc.):

“A friend had a can of juice poured on her head by some boys a few years ago due to her image.”
“A group of youths shouted abuse and taunts.”
“A grown adult swearing at my then 6 year old cause she said she wasn't allowed to talk to strangers.”

Many respondents, however, noted that the bullying/discrimination had focused on a range of protected characteristics, with a significant number indicating multiple instances of negative behaviour, including:

  • gender/sexism/misogyny and issues of sexual harassment and assault
  • ethnicity/racist abuse - including discriminatory comments made to those whose first language was not English and anti-English sentiment
  • religion/faith/belief
  • disability/ableism
  • sexual orientation/homophobia, and
  • transphobic abuse.
“80% of my bus ride includes a male talking to me in a way I feel uncomfortable (in both sexual and ethnicity context). It happens during day time too.”
“As a minority and a Muslim I’ve had various experiences of racism and islamophobia during journey on the bus. If it’s not racism and islamophobia then it’s someone creating an uncomfortable environment, for example staring, moving seat closer, etc.”
“Homophobic comments about friends, have seen other people being racist and horrible to others. I get a lot of sexist and suggestive comments.”
“Been called names for my sexuality plus the way I dress.”
“My son is trans. He's had people shout out [abusive comments], not always by other teens, sometimes by grown adults. People refusing to sit beside him on the bus, etc.”
“Ableism all the time. I've been threatened about my own disability in front of my child. I don’t feel confident traveling by bus anymore due to verbal abuse from passengers.”

It was also highlighted that young people suffered from ageism in that they were often stereotyped by bus drivers and other passengers, and were treated with suspicion or disrespect:

“Ageism, sometimes drivers are dismissive of younger people tarring them all with same brush.”
“Adult members of the public regularly complain loudly about young people being on buses and filling busses. Their anger is targeted at the type of people using the bus rather than the bus providers not providing enough busses for a route.”

These issues resulted in children/young people feeling intimidated, threatened, scared or worried, with some suggesting that they were reluctant or refused to use buses after such incidents.

Barriers to Bus Use

Respondents were also asked to identify what issues or barriers they/their child faced in using buses. Of the 16,616 who provided a response, the biggest barriers were cited as cost (51%) and safety concerns at night (45%). Over a third of respondents also indicated that frequency of services (35%), journey times (36%), and reliability issues (37%) were issues/barriers faced, along with safety concerns when travelling alone (38%).

Figure 9: Issues and Barriers to Bus Use
Figure 9: Issues and Barriers to Bus Use. As described in text.

(Multiple responses were provided to this question)

Issues and Barriers to Bus Use – Demographic Analysis

  • Those living in rural areas and on islands were more likely to cite timetables, frequency of buses, limited route options, a lack of bus stops nearby, and having to rely on family members when travelling as issues they faced, compared to those living in towns and cities.
  • Those in towns and cities were more likely to highlight cost and reliability issues as barriers to use.
  • Those living on islands were much less likely to have safety concerns, either at night or during the day.
  • Females and those who identified as trans, non-binary or in another way were more likely to highlight safety concerns at night and when travelling alone compared to males.
  • There were few other differences between males and females, however, those who identified as trans, non-binary or in another way were more likely to identify cost and reliability as issues.
  • Those whose activities were limited by a health condition, were more likely to indicate that all issues were relevant to them compared to those who did not have a health issue - with the exception of the ‘parent/carer deciding how their young person travels’.
  • Cost was more of an issue as household incomes reduced.
  • Reliability was more of an issue for those in the lowest income households (less than £10,000).
  • As household income increased respondents were increasingly likely to highlight issues with current bus routes not going where they wanted/needed, there being no bus stop nearby, and that parents/carers were in control of their child’s travel.

While respondents living on islands were more likely than those in towns/cities to identify a lack of bus stops nearby as an issue in the current survey, this was still identified by a minority (17%), and is consistent with results of the Scottish National Islands Plan Survey (2020), where 14% of those aged 18-35 strongly disagreed or disagreed that they could access a bus within walking distance of home. Further, while 29% of those on islands indicated that the bus did not go where they need/ want in this survey, three quarters (75%) of respondents aged 18-35 to the Scottish National Islands Plan Survey (2020) either agreed or strongly agreed that their local bus connected to essential services, such as schools, hospitals, GPs, and supermarkets. It should be noted, however, that the age cohorts available across the two surveys varied and so results are not directly comparable.

Respondents who noted ‘other’ issues were asked to outline what these were. Some noted that they did not use the bus, or that they experienced no issues or barriers. However, others noted issues including:

  • challenges for those with autism or learning disabilities/difficulties travelling alone
  • a lack of services locally
  • drivers not stopping for children/young people waiting at stops
  • buses being too busy/overcrowded
  • safety concerns (again including personal safety on-board, the safety of the route to/from the bus stop and with the bus stop itself, and the risk of catching COVID-19)
  • requiring correct change for the fare
  • timetables being difficult to read
  • young people being made to pay an adult fare rather than the appropriate child fare
  • needing to use multiple buses to reach their destination and/or that onward connections were not joined-up or convenient
  • travel disruption (including reduced timetables due to COVID-19, delays and disruption due to congestion and roadworks), and
  • a few noted that they get travel sick on buses

The Scottish Household Survey also included information on barriers to bus use from 2012 to 2018. This outlined elements that discouraged passengers from using buses more often, with the top three notable reasons being that they tend to use their own car instead (22%), simply no need for the bus (19%), and that the bus took too long (15%).

Consistent with the findings above, wider literature, (Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce (AGCC) (2015) ‘Reducing the barriers to bus use’ and Transport Focus (2020) ‘Barriers to bus use in the West Midlands’), also highlights journey times, reliability and cost as barriers to bus use, along with the need for multiple buses to complete a journey making it an unattractive option. The need to have the correct change for the fare, and perceived inconsistencies in fare structures were also identified as issues. The prevalence of anti-social behaviour was an issue outlined in the literature, along with perceptions around poor quality on-board experiences. 

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