Written evidence from Glenn Lyons and
Steve Atkins, Centre for Transport & Society (CTS), University
of the West of England, Bristol (UWE) (HSR 197)|
CTS at UWE has been responsible for taking forward
research into how individuals use their time when travelling and
what meaning and value this has for them. Specifically, in relation
to the HSR Inquiry, CTS has designed questions that have been
included in the National (Rail) Passenger Survey in Autumn 2004
and Autumn 2010. Such questions have addressed: (i) what rail
passengers do with their time on the train; (ii) how worthwhile
they consider this time to be; (iii) how they equip themselves
for using their time; and (iv) the extent to which they plan in
advance how to use the time on the train. The research has not
been oriented specifically towards an attempt to economically
evaluate travel time and travel time savings. However, the empirical
evidence does challenge the orthodox approach of economic
appraisal (applied in the economic case for HS2) that assumes
travel time during the working day to be unproductive such
that savings in travel time convert unproductive time into
productive use which has economic value.
For the comparative analysis of 2004 and 2010 response
data, sample sizes were as follows: 2004 - 22,866; and 2010 -
19,715. These are very large sample sizes lending the findings
a high degree of credibility. Results are weighted to be representative
of rail services across Great Britain. A full write up of the
analysis is available on request from Glenn.Lyons@uwe.ac.uk. Key
findings are as follows:
(1) 27% of all rail passengers spend some
time working/studying on the train - this increases to 54% when
considering business travellers. The figures are relatively stable
between 2004 and 2010.
(2) One third of business travellers (34%) indicate
that the activity they spend most time on while on the
train is working/studying.
(3) Across all passengers, the incidence of working/studying
as the main activity is greatest for journey times of 1-3
hours: ½-1 hour - 16%; 1-2 hours - 20%; 2-3 hours - 18%;
and 3+ hours - 13%.
(4) 43% of business travellers spend some time
reading for leisure (25% spend most time on this); 46% window
gaze/people watch (13% spend most time on this).
(5) Technology use is apparent - 32% of business
travellers spend some travel time on text messages/phone calls
for work (up from 21% in 2004) and 31% spend some time checking
(6) Only 1% of business travellers spend most
time being bored (the figure is 2% for all passengers).
(7) Commuting in the UK is considered to be outside
the working day. 27% of rail commuters spend some time on the
train working/studying - 13% spend the most time on this.
(8) 30% of all passengers consider they make
very worthwhile use of their time on the train (up from 24% in
2004); 55% consider they make some use of their time; and 13%
consider their time spent on the train as wasted (down from 19%
in 2004). 91% of business travellers consider their time on the
train to be very worthwhile or of some use.
(9) For travellers for whom the activity they
spend most time on is working/studying, 46% consider their time
on the train very worthwhile (up from 40% in 2004). Only 3% consider
it wasted time.
(10) 8% of passengers plan a lot in advance
how they will use their travel time on the train. 68% do not plan
at all or plan very little because they always use their time
in the same way. 64% of passengers who plan a lot in advance consider
their time use very worthwhile; this compares to 21% who do not
plan in advance at all.
(11) The proportion of rail passengers having
and using a laptop computer on the train has increased by two-thirds
in the past six years. 54% of those who have a mobile phone with
them are now using it on the train compared to 36% six years ago.
(12) The proportion of passengers equipped for
sound and those making use of this has more or less doubled in
the last six years.
Earlier qualitative empirical work lead by CTS has
highlighted the different meanings and experiences of travel time
to individuals. Travel time can be seen as a gift - important
in social relations - to other people at a journey's destination
- measured as the cost to the traveller of creating that co-presence.
Travel time can also be a gift to oneself, with three intrinsic
meanings: "time out" - escaping from the pressures
and obligations of complex lifestyles, "me time"time
for personal self indulgence, and "transition time"
- allowing space between the different demands of workplace and
home, preparing for the activities at the destination. The distinction
can also be made between clock time and experienced
time. The latter can be stretched or compressed according to the
traveller's state of mind and activity engagement. For example
experimental work has shown how journeys can be made more acceptable
or "remedied" through assisted planning in advance of
travel and by provision of suitable artefacts for use during the
journey. In this way we can improve the perception of how travel
time is used and experienced.
In the "Economic Case for HS2" report,
the analysis and commentary is at pains to "head off"
the problem underlined by the empirical evidence above, namely
that the core assumption in the orthodox approach to appraisal
of travel time being unproductive is flawed. Significant proportions
of travellers, particularly but not exclusively business travellers,
work or study during their journey and assess this time as being
very worthwhile. The implication is that the time being saved
by faster journeys by HS2 is not as valuable as is being assumed
- thus the benefits of HS2 may be less than assumed overall. The
report rightly contends that if travel time use is to be considered
in economic appraisal then account must also be taken of
the positive impacts of reduced crowding (through greater capacity
provision) and (potentially) greater time use productivity for
individuals switching from road to rail. Its consideration concludes
that the orthodox approach remains robust in terms of the outcome
values. This may be true but this consideration itself
makes its own assumptions about the nature and extent of "positive
utility" derived from travel time use on rail and alternative
What is clear, across transport investment, is that
it is not acceptable to treat travel as simply a disutility -
a means to an end. It has, or can often have, positive value and
this is irrefutably true of travel by rail. Our empirical findings
tend to suggest that this value (economically and potentially
socially) is increasing over time - the proportion of rail travellers
who consider their travel time very worthwhile has gone up by
a quarter in six years. As the information age further advances,
how will this change over the 60 year time horizon considered
The overall research results given above reveal quite
clearly that people get positive value from their rail travel
time - although it will not be the same across all parts of the
network and for different travelling conditions. A key question
for rail investment is whether the priority is increasing capacity
or speeding up journeys. Recognition that travel time use has
a positive utility may undermine the value of the latter; meanwhile
it may add substantially to the economic value of the former.
Investing in getting more out of travel time may be as important
to consider as investing in getting more travel time out of travel.
We do not wish to express a view either for or against
high speed rail. However, given the critical importance of travel
time valuation to the economic appraisal of the HS2 investment
we are strongly of the view that further investigation of the
economic and social values of travel time use by rail travellers
and users of alternative modes is urgently needed before there
can be sufficient confidence in the economic case. A rethink is
5 August 2011