Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Supplementary note by the Rail Passengers' Council (OPT 19A)


  1.   Subsequent to the oral evidence provided by Mr Smith and Mr O'Friel at the hearing on overcrowding held on 8 January 2003, there was some media coverage concerning research, that we are considering commissioning, into the effects of overcrowding on passengers' stress levels. This coverage stemmed from our memorandum to the Transport Committee in which we made passing reference to a literature review on the effects of overcrowding on passenger stress. This preliminary report carried out on our behalf by the University of Nottingham—Rail Passenger Stress and Health—is enclosed for reference.

  2.  The preliminary report highlighted the paucity of research work on the effect of overcrowding on people in general and the effects of overcrowding on rail passengers' stress levels in particular. However, the report, based on relevant research that has been published, raises some interesting points. The report suggests that situations in which there is a high density of people and those that are perceived as crowded are not necessarily the same thing — ie in the same situation, different people may perceive the level of overcrowding differently. It also suggests that this perception is partly determined by the stress that the high-density situation induces. The report highlights a difficulty in establishing a rigid definition of overcrowding on public transport, but suggests that passengers' perception is a crucial factor to understand. The report goes on to suggest that the perception of crowding is contingent upon other aspects of such situations—eg journey time; the degree of control passengers are able to exert in a high-density situation (eg the ability to choose a seat, and control proximity to other passengers); the stage of overcrowding (or otherwise) at which a passenger joins the situation; the unpredictability of events; the role of staff; and the perception of spaciousness. Isolating the effect of overcrowding on passenger stress from other factors appears to be far from simple.

  3.  In the light of the preliminary report, there appears to be scope for specific research into the effect of overcrowding on rail passengers. The Rail Passengers Council is now considering how best to proceed with this work.

20 January 2003

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