SOCIAL STATUS AND IDENTITY KEYS TO BUS AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT UPTAKE: STUDY

By: Fabian Cotter


AN INTERNATIONAL STUDY featuring a Queensland academic has revealed “stark cultural differences in attitudes towards public transport” are possibly behind people’s uptake of buses and public transport, it’s reported recently.

SOCIAL STATUS AND IDENTITY KEYS TO BUS AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT UPTAKE: STUDY
Biases toward public transport run deep, and may help foster – or hinder – support for public transport, experts state.

According to UQ News – the weekly newsletter of The University of Queensland - researchers interviewed commuters in Anglo and Nordic countries such as the United States, the Netherlands and Australia, and Asian nations including China and India, in an attempt to unpick the symbolism associated with public transport uptake.

UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences researcher Dr Dorina Pojani says she was surprised at how differently diverse parts of the world saw public transport, the publication states.

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"On average, professional, educated households in Anglo and Nordic countries are wealthier, so one would expect that they would be more attached to cars and more negative toward public transport," she said.

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"But what we found is that they were actually more indifferent.

"By contrast, professionals in China and India – who haven't experienced car ownership en masse for that long – have already developed very strong and negative attitudes toward public transport.

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"That was quite eye-opening, and it appeared that professionals in those countries believed that riding the bus could potentially compromise business relationships, or even marriage prospects."

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DEEP BIASES

Dr Pojani – who takes the bus to work – believes that biases toward public transport run deep, and may help foster – or hinder – support for public transport, it states.

"For nearly all of the history of public transit, this field has been dominated by engineers who think they can improve public transport uptake by building more infrastructure or making it run faster.

"But, in reality, this isn’t the full picture. Transport modes like buses, cars and bikes all have strong symbolic significance attached to them.

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"Using or shunning a particular mode is a way to express our social status and identity.

"Even if we aren't conscious of it, we may make the decision to ride a bus, not based on how much it costs or whether or takes us where we want to go, but based on how we want to be seen by others.

"In some countries, you may be afraid of appearing to be poor, or simply don’t want to associate with those who typically ride the bus."

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ASIAN MEGACITIES

As the article explains, the research suggests changing these attitudes is critical to develop well-used, sustainable public transport systems across the globe.

"We live in a world of increasing greenhouse gases, accelerating climate change, and rapid depletion of a range of non-renewable resources," she said.

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"We need public transport to be popular, particularly in Asia's megacities, such as Beijing or Chennai, where citizens are also suffering from the health impacts of a rapid deterioration in air quality.

"Changing thinking around public transport can help us build a brighter future for all."

The study is published in the Journal of Transport Geography.

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