Perception of congestion on motorways
Accurate Journey Time Information
The research has shown that most respondents use some form of travel information (Internet/Road Atlas etc) to help plan unfamiliar journeys, but few take note of existing information on suggested journey times. This was normally because they felt this information was unreliable, and instead they would either estimate journey times themselves (based on distance and perceptions of average speed) or would ask friends/colleagues/relatives for advice. However, most respondents added in large buffer times for congestion when planning journeys, which often meant they would arrive ‘too early’ for appointments. This suggests that improvements to the provision of journey time information would have benefits in terms of time savings, and most respondents said they would welcome more accurate journey time information.
As part of the research, a travel game was played to test reactions to different ways of presenting journey time information on travel websites, and a priority should be to develop this into a travel information service that will provide more accurate and useful travel time information than has been available in the past. An issue might be that many people will at least initially miss-trust the information, as experiences to date have shown that journey time information has been perceived to be unreliable. However, over time this miss-trust will diminish if site users find that quoted journey times match those in reality, and this in turn may have a positive impact in helping to reduce congestion.
Willingless to Divert
The research has shown a lack of willingness to divert amongst most respondents, and this is partly due to poor network knowledge (particularly amongst young people), and feelings that information on the radio and via VMS rarely provides enough advance warning and sufficient details about possible alternative routes. This suggests the need to improve information on opportunities for diverting, as this could help free up otherwise congested parts of the network. It would also be beneficial to find ways of increasing network knowledge, as this would help to increase public confidence in people’s ability to divert.
To meet these objectives we recommend developing ways of using VMS and other media to improve the provision of information on advance warnings of delays and possible alternative routes. We also recommend development of network maps or similar materials that drivers could use for quick reference in congested traffic to help them identify possible alternative routes. Given that it is younger people who appear to have the poorest network knowledge, educational materials for school leavers and for use when sitting a driving test might also be developed to help increase network knowledge.
Encourage more flexible working hours
A key research finding was that many respondents felt peak hours were extending due to increasing congestion, and that many were forced to travel at peak times due to the nature of their professions, with those in lower socio-economic groups most likely to say they had inflexible working hours and that their employers would be unlikely to change these.
Given that flexible working hours can contribute towards reducing peak hour congestion, we suggest that a priority should be to work with employers to explore the potential to increase the use of flexible working hours. A starting point here would be to work with the largest employers across business sectors in order to promote a culture of flexible working where possible, and allowing for a ‘top down’ approach.
Increasing knowledge of alternative travel modes
Although a large proportion of the sample said they were unable to or unlikely to use alternative travel modes, there were groups of respondents who might potentially switch modes, and these were as follows:
- Many young people had a low awareness of alternative modes to the car and said they were on ‘auto-pilot’ when it came to choosing the car;
- Some older respondents (mainly males) had not used public transport for a number of years, and there most recent experience had been a poor one mainly in terms of reliability and comfort; and
- Some female respondents (mainly those with young children) said they disliked driving and would therefore prefer to use public transport but found the cost and comfort for family travel to be prohibitive.
The above findings indicate a need to raise awareness of alternative travel modes amongst car drivers. However, to be effective we feel a personalised travel planning type of approach would be best whereby people are recommended actual public transport alternatives for the routes they travel. This approach, although resource intensive, is preferable to only providing general publicity on alternative modes, as most people in our study would need route specific information to encourage them to switch modes.
Any general publicity about alternative travel modes will need to address any concerns and miss-conceptions people may have about comfort, reliability and the cost of using public transport. For example, many respondents had negative perceptions of public transport which had been formulated on the basis of a bad experience many years ago, and in such cases publicity to show that public transport has changed and improved since then might help encourage modal shift. Similarly, many felt the cost of public transport tickets for families were prohibitive, but many public transport operators have recognised this and are providing more family friendly services with financial discounts. This suggests a need to work in partnership with operators and other stakeholders to help promote positive perceptions of public transport that in turn may help encourage some level of modal shift and therefore help reduce congestion.
It is important to note that the business community has an important role to play in implementing each of the measures described above. As shown above, we feel a priority should be to work with businesses to address negative health and road safety aspects associated with bad driving, and to promote more use of flexible working hours and use of alternative travel modes. These are all areas that businesses can be encouraged to address through workplace road safety, driving at work and travel plan policies.
Improved network management
The above measures will all contribute to improved network management, but critical to helping reduce the negative impact of congestion will be effective traffic management in special circumstances such as accidents, temporary roadworks, major events and other incidents. These special circumstances can be those which cause most concern and frustration for drivers as they are more likely to result in unpredictable congestion which has a more severe impact on people than anticipated congestion because the delays are more time consuming and people can be late for time critical appointments. This should therefore be a top priority action, and this is reflected in the appointment of HA traffic officers who were recruited specifically for this role.