Traffic growth in European cities is damaging our quality of life and economic prosperity. Switching demand from cars to collective transport would alleviate this problem. This will require public transport systems to become more market oriented and competitive. A number of initiatives have sought to improve these systems and introduce new service offerings. However, they have often had only limited success, partly due to an inadequate understanding of user needs.
The aim of MOTIF was to find ways of improving the market orientation of urban public transport, through a better matching of service characteristics with the requirements of different groups of users.
Through the analysis of previous practice and 33 city case studies, MOTIF identified market research methods and segmentations that will allow effective discrimination and valid conclusions to be drawn when targeting improvements in public transport services.
Important findings included:
- Passenger priorities differ substantially between countries, with only punctuality/reliability commonly achieving a high ranking. The postulated importance of travel speed in modal choice may be over-rated. Therefore, user needs must always be confirmed locally.
- Previous market research has often focused on frequent travellers, and thereby failed to spot the different needs of other user groups. For example, only low importance is attributed on average to pre-trip information, but this aspect is significant for infrequent and potential users.
- The dependence of passenger requirements on socio-economic and journey characteristics is rather small, with only a 3-6% variation in the perceived importance of service attributes.
- A useful definition of good practice operation (i.e. indicators and benchmarks) on a European level is hard to find. This reflects the weakness of the correlation between delivered and perceived quality. Direct measurement of satisfaction will remain the more reliable indicator of product quality as seen by the customer.
MOTIF concluded that:
- If a detailed segmentation of consumer preferences is required, the survey should be carried out on a local basis. There are no standard European solutions.
- Market studies should ensure that adequate discrimination is obtained between different user groups and service attributes. Otherwise, crucial information disappears in the mean values. For feasibility reasons, the extent of segmentation must be limited. Pilot tests with the methodology can help to avoid wasting effort on low quality results. For example, primary and secondary requirements can be distinguished, so that secondary needs such as passenger information are not under-estimated.
- The level of fares is important, but users are prepared to pay for good quality on important features. Therefore, surveys should be geared towards quantifying the willingness of the customer to pay for certain improvements.
Further work is needed to improve the ability of public transport operators to use market research effectively. For example, a standardised set of dimensions/segments would aid comparability of results and cross-operator learning, even though the finer detail of each survey must be determined locally. Also, a better understanding is needed of the relations between results from different market research methods, between delivered and perceived quality, and between perceived quality and modal choice.