Travellers in Europe are more flexible than expected

EU project USEmobility findings: transport market is highly dynamic

People in Europe are surprisingly flexible when it comes to choosing their mode of transport. Within the last five years, around half of all travellers in six European countries have made changes to their own transport habits and have tried out a new mobility mix. These are the findings of the EU project USEmobility, in which seven partners from five countries spent 26 months carrying out research into passengers' behavioural patterns. "By looking at the real reasons for switching mode, our scientifically researched project entered new territory," said Jolanta Skalska from the German Pro-Rail Alliance during the USEmobility project's final conference on Wednesday in Berlin. "Focussing on traveller behaviour was very useful," said Skalska. For example, transport researchers found out that people review their established choice of transport mode far more often than previously assumed. "Every new phase in a person's life circumstance, from beginning school to starting an apprenticeship, from starting a new job to retiring, creates potential for making changes," said Skalska in her summary of the large-scale representative survey, which was carried out in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, the Netherlands and Belgium. It came as no surprise that half of all those surveyed had actually made such a change within the last five years.

As expected, apart from individual life circumstances, the quality of the alternatives on offer had a considerable impact on potential for change. Within the USEmobility framework, researchers confirmed that 'hard factors' such as ease of reaching bus stops and stations, a convenient timetable or low ticket prices were decisive incentives for travellers to switch from their cars to public transport. On the other hand, 'soft factors' such overcrowding on trains or lack of cleanliness were often cited as reasons why travellers turned their backs on public transport. The number of travellers who said that environmental issues had been a major factor for changing to public transport for was surprisingly high at 36 percent.

Andreas Geißler from the Pro-Rail Alliance emphasised the practical applications for the USEmobility findings. "Our survey allows us make strategic recommendations for transport companies, policy makers and organisations," said Geißler at the project's concluding conference on Wednesday. Transport companies can be encouraged by the Europe-wide survey to be more target-oriented in addressing potential travellers. "Closely cooperating with local registration offices, employers or schools could help transport companies to address people going through changes in their life circumstances," said Geißler. An interesting approach also stems from the fact that most of those who changed transport modes were already using a mix of mobility modes. Companies could react to this by strengthening the range of services that provide door-to-door-mobility, for example with car-sharing or bicycle hire facilities. Geißler warned against simply regarding the dynamics of change as an opportunity and not a challenge as well. "Customers who are pragmatic in their choice of transport mode are also demanding at the same time because they like to keep their options open." Providers of bus and train services would be well advised to focus their efforts on not only acquiring new customers but also retaining their regular travellers.

USEmobility will also provide orientation for policy makers, said Geißler. "For travellers, clear signals on policy are very important. A real strategy for the future of personal mobility has to improve the network of different transport modes as a whole and create incentives for switching to public transport." There are signs of a change in mobility values that will accelerate growth in the public transport sector. " This means that politicians must now ensure that the necessary infrastructure and capacity is available." Civil society organisations will play the role of intermediary, bridging the gap between policy makers, transport companies and individual travellers. "Passenger groups and environmental organisations especially should use their expertise to call for clear transport policy targets that will benefit travellers."
The lead manager for the EU project USEmobility was the German Pro-Rail Alliance. The Hamburg-based market research institute Quotas carried out the survey on behavioural change. BSL Transportation Consultants, also based in Hamburg, worked on the current state of mobility research and the national trends in travellers' choice of transport mode. The European Passengers' Federation from Belgium developed the concepts for the workshop, which brought together the three target groups (policy makers, companies and organisations) to discuss visions for the future of European transport in the years 2020 and 2050. The Hungarian Clean Air Group was responsible for project communications and the Web site. The Austrian Transport Club VCÖ - Mobility with a Future, based in Vienna, and the Croatian Savez za Zeljeznicu ('Allianz pro Schiene') took on the role of disseminating the project's findings within their own countries.


The Pro-Rail Alliance (Allianz pro Schiene) is the German alliance for the promotion of environmentally friendly and safe rail transport. It unites 18 non-profit organisations: the environmental organisations BUND, NABU, Deutsche Umwelthilfe and NaturFreunde Deutschlands; the consumer groups Pro Bahn, DBV and VCD; the automobile clubs ACE and ACV; the two rail unions EVG and GDL; the German Conference of Christian Railway Missions; the rail organisations BDEF, BF Bahnen, VBB and VDEI; and the Technical University Wildau. Its member associations represent more than 2 million individual members. The Pro-Rail Alliance is supported by 100 companies operating in the rail sector.