Perception of congestion on motorways
All respondents said they would do some form of journey planning if intending to travel on an unfamiliar route. There were however key differences in the approach by respondents from different socio-economic groups. In general, most in higher socio-economic groups used various internet sites (AA/RAC) to plan their route, but few took notice of the quoted journeys times which were often described as unreliable. Most said they attempted to calculate the journey time themselves by looking at the journey distance quoted on the website, working out their likely average speed (based on anticipated congestion) and the time this would take, and then adding some extra time on in order to allow for unanticipated congestion and/or to arrive early if a time critical appointment.
In comparison, respondents in lower socio-economic groups would plan using a road Atlas and/or by asking family and friends for route advice, and based on a combination of advice form these sources they would estimate the journey time in a similar way to that just described for those in higher socio-economic groups.
In order to establish the type of journey time information respondents might trust and use, a travel game was played during the focus groups to test various ways of presenting journey time information. Respondents were presented with the following journey time scenarios for a number of routes for peak/off peak and time critical/not time critical journeys.
- Average journey time;
- Worst case scenario (eg accident on route);
- Journey time in 9 out of 10 cases; and
- Journey time 95% of the time.
Initially at the groups most respondents said they would use the average journey time if making a non-time critical journey and the worst case scenario for time critical journeys. However, after further discussion and explanation of the 9/10 and 95% journey time scenarios many respondents said they would be likely to use this information to help plan time critical journeys, and that they would add a ‘time buffer’ to this to allow them to arrive at their destination early and for any unanticipated congestion.
Despite support for the 9/10 and 95% journey times, most respondents took a while to understand the information and many questioned how the journey times had been calculated and the reliability of the information. This questioning of the information seems to stem from respondents miss-trust of journeys times quoted on websites they currently use, and it demonstrates the difficulties in presenting this information on a website.
Some respondents suggested that it would be best to present all the travel information scenarios on a website, as this would provide the driver with all the information they need to make a decision on what time to set off on a journey. This was a response mainly by those who made frequent and long distance time critical journeys such as HGV drivers and business car drivers who said they would welcome accurate journey time information to help them plan their journeys. However, they were keen to emphasise that the information would need to be in an easy to read form, free from any statistical or other jargon.