The bus does not have the place it deserves. Several actors share the responsibility for its execrable image. By administering the right remedies, it will become central to the future of responsible mobility. Why do so many people hate the bus? Is it possible to prefer a bus journey to a Tesla journey?
Two modes of transport have a legitimate image of virtue: train and bicycle. They are non-polluting or low-polluting, take up little space, are suitable for a multitude of journeys and are sustainable. The question of their widespread use no longer arises. But between train and bicycle, too many journeys remain almost impossible without a private car.
Certain populations (children, the elderly, PRMs) and certain conditions (weather, objects to be transported) make the situation worse. It is in these areas that the bus, whether fixed or on demand, is intended to take the place of the private car. The experience of transport is heterogeneous, depending on whether you live at the centre of the metro network, close to scooters and passenger cars with driver services or in a sparsely populated area where the mobility offer is limited to a pair of trainers or a bus that passes every half hour. Living without a car outside a city centre can nowadays only be suffered and never chosen.
Well optimised, the bus is ecologically and economically more efficient. The impact of smart bus lines is decisive for the community. In order to fully take its place, the bus must reinvent its image, like other modes of transport before it.
“WHOEVER IS SEEN ON A BUS AFTER THE AGE OF 30 HAS FAILED IN LIFE”
This quote, attributed to Margaret Thatcher, is apocryphal. It is the work of Brian Christian de Claiborne Howard, an English essayist of the first half of the twentieth century. It sums up in a few words the deplorable image of the bus in our societies.
The bus has the image of a transport mean for second-class citizens. Poor people. The bus is old, it is unreliable, and let’s face it, it often stinks. If we made a profile of the bus user, it would look like the profile of the abstainer. Far from responsible mobility.
After decades of explaining its misdeeds, the private car still has a more positive image than the bus. According to Eurostat, the modal share of buses in the EU fell by 9.6% between 2005 and 2017, whilst that of the car remained unchanged (+0.3%) and that of the train increased by 11.5%.
THE IMAGE OF TRANSPORTATION MODES IS CHANGING
Other modes of transport have been able to reinvent their image. This is the case of the long-distance train: from an uncomfortable, slow and unattractive mode of transport, it has become modern, state-of-the-art, offering a premium experience to as many people as possible at an affordable price from city centres. The train has become more desirable than the airplane.
Even more recently, the taxi has reinvented itself ‘forced march’. By taking advantage of platforming, passenger cars with driver have metamorphosed the user experience. The lack of friendliness (often fantasised) of drivers, the difficulty of finding one, the uncertainties at the time of payment have disappeared and the taxi has become premium while becoming more democratic.
“THE BUS MUST BECOME THE IPHONE OF TRANSPORTATION MODES”
The examples are countless. Even the scooter has become cool. On the other side of the spectrum, the airplane or motorised two-wheelers, ancient symbols of glamour, have seen their image degraded because of a pitiful user experience (1) or a shift in mentality.
WHAT IF EVERYTHING HAD TO BE REDONE?
Repairing the bus system costs much less than repairing the train. The bus is a very small market in the eyes of an economist, but very important for society. It can only afford to propose the ordeal of the night bus service but is in competition with Uber and with Tesla who know how to deliver desire (2). Taking the example of successful modes of transport, the bus must become the iPhone of transport, just as the French TGV (high-speed train) symbolised technological excellence.
When it comes to image, it has to start with the visual. Stop turning every bus user into a sandwich man. No one wants to get into a vehicle between two cheese and telephone ads.
Vehicle markings should also do less to promote the transport authority, the town hall or the control centre, whose logos and colours invade the walls of the vehicles. Private shared mobility services, such as company or airport shuttles, display vehicles that look like high-end saloon cars. Renowned designers are responsible for the design of the train seats. Why not bus seats? Some conurbations are making efforts to improve the image projected by their means of transport, but there are too few of them.
Instead of advertising on buses, why not advertise for buses? Public services are not condemned to infantile and outdated communication: in France, the Army has been able to offer modern and striking communication.
“SAVING TIME AND IMPROVING COMMERCIAL SPEEDS”
Finally, the user experience is key to transforming the bus experience into responsible mobility. Not by adding two gadgets and USB sockets. It has become impossible to offer public transport that does not warn of the specific time of arrival. Who can’t guarantee a seat, carry a piece of luggage, or accommodate no more than 3 pushchairs at the same time? A transport that provides so little and adapts so badly to conditions, passengers and surprises. Even the NYC subway, once perceived as an unhealthy cut-throat, has regained a positive image thanks to a team of motivated engineers (3).
Its reliance on traffic also gives the bus the image of a slow mode of transport. This idea must also be addressed. The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a more radical and, above all, more efficient solution than reserved lanes. Eliminating on-board ticket sales also saves time and improves commercial speeds.
Shared transport is taking its place. Between 2002 and 2017, in France, public transport increased by 24%, compared to 4% for the private car. Among public transport, the railways have taken the lion’s share, with an increase of more than 28%, compared to 19% for buses and 12% for air transport. In order to go further, additional improvements are still needed.
The burden of these improvements falls on a multitude of actors: manufacturers, transport authorities and local authorities. To replace the private car or taxi, the bus must be given priority, everywhere, in order to save time that it will devote to better take care of users.
This is the only way to make the bus attractive and to ensure that its promises of ecological, social and economic impact are kept for the greatest number of people. Adapted to all types of territories, it deserves it.
Thibault Lécuyer-Weber is Chief Marketing Officer at Padam Mobility
- The airplane suffers from the distance of the airports and the heavy security protocols imposed.
This recent blog may also interest you: The shadow of the private car is back