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Mobility and Time Value

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What makes time spent travelling worthwhile?

Transport planners often focus on minimising travel time, but an EU-funded project has shown that ‘time well spent’ can be just as important for users choosing a particular mode of transport.

Transport and Mobility
Society

Does the daily commute feel like wasted time? A time of stress where you feel you could be doing something more useful and productive? A major EU-funded survey of 3 300 people in eight EU countries, each recording between 7 000 and 10 000 trips, has found that better travel experiences or being able to carry out certain activities while travelling are at least as important to travellers as time and/or money spent on the trip. “This could lead to a new definition of worthwhile travel time, which could be important for designing more sustainable mobility systems that people actually want to use,” says MoTiV project coordinator Ghadir Pourhashem, senior researcher in intelligent transport systems, University of Žilina, Slovakia. The project gathered data on positive and negative perceptions of travel time in Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain using a ‘crowdsourcing’ type Woorti smartphone app devised by the MoTiV project team. The app automatically detects trips and modes of transport as well as changes between modes. Users entered further details on their travel experience via the app. Information was collected across different transport modes – private cars, long-distance and short-distance public transport, buses, cycling and walking – balanced by gender, age group and geographical coverage.

Travellers don’t necessarily want to limit travel time

“The biggest surprise was that people want enjoyable travel time,” Pourhashem adds. “If they enjoy it, they don’t necessarily want to minimise their travel time.” “If a traveller feels their trips are worthwhile because it can boost fitness – as is the case with walking or cycling – or enjoyment of scenery, or productivity because they can read or use mobile phones while travelling, then they may not mind travelling for longer,” Pourhashem explains. The project focuses on the traveller’s experience and uses a multimode approach, whereas transport planners normally gather information on a specific mode of transport. For short-distance public transport, reliability of travel time and a smooth ride were key. Doing paid work while en route is less important. Car drivers are less likely to think their travelling time is worthwhile.

New approach to mobility planning

The project provides valuable data and evidence for investing in higher-quality transport as an alternative to investing in speedier transport, Pourhashem says, noting: “Overall our results make the case that, from a traveller’s perspective, the experience of travel matters and should have a central role in transport planning.” For example: “Most of our transport planning is geared to men’s mobility needs. Now it is time for city planners and transport authorities to consider other aspects, such as the generational and gender dimension,” Pourhashem says. He points out that women may need to use prams on public transport systems. And if obstacles can be removed, or other negative experiences such as crowding, poor seating quality and reliability improved, it would lead to higher use of public transport by certain groups. The MoTiV project will help to improve the appraisal of transport projects with a new user-focused ‘worthwhileness index’ based on the level of productivity, fitness and enjoyment. “The next research challenge is to quantify ‘worthwhileness’ in monetary terms so that estimates can be embedded more easily in conventional appraisals,” adds Pourhashem. Future mobility systems should aim for zero ‘wasted’ time in travel, rather than small reductions in travel time on inherently wasteful transport modes, he concluded.

Keywords

MoTiV, transport, mobility, cycling, fitness, worthwhileness index

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