Remember human psychology when planning transport networks – Academic says

November 05 2018

Transport planners are being urged to ensure they take into account human behaviour when planning and running networks and remember that people aren’t always rational when making decisions.

Professor Sarah Sharples of Nottingham University (pictured), keynote speaker at the IET’s Behavioural Science in Transport conference in London, said that using behavioural Science to improve the design and delivery of transport initiatives must involve listening to a wide range of people in order to ensure the end-to-end journey is properly designed to improve take-up of the service because “if we get it right, we get better design, culture and performance and that gives a positive return”.

Prof Sharples told the event, which was held in association with ITS (UK), that designers must avoid pinch points by taking a systems approach to design, acknowledging this can be difficult when lots of different organisations are responsible for different parts of the journey.  Pinch points, she explained, are not just in journey design but also in human services such as wifi, power and toilets.  She added that learning from technology companies will help, using Uber as an example of a disruptive service which applied technology to deliver a transport solution people like and use.

The ergonomics expert also added that we must acknowledge limitations presented by legacy systems, explaining that driverless cars are a great example of this because they will have to work in conditions that are far from ideal for them, but that building their own infrastructure is wholly impractical.  But, she said positively, we must also recognise the speed at which change can happen, such as the take-up of contactless ticketing or GPS.  “So be bold when considering regulatory frameworks and ensure government, research, innovators and academia can work together,” she said, “And take a systems perspective in all that we do”.

The delegates also heard that when planning for use of transport, we should never underestimate the attractiveness to humans of the power of the norm, with perceived usefulness and ease “leading to intention to use and then usage behaviour”.

Professor Sharples also urged planners to consider the customer experience, remind them that having a poor experience can have a significant impact with a number of people choosing not use a service again.  “We are flawed decision makers and so when designing a network we need to take this into account,” she said.

The IET Behavioural Science in Transport conference in association with ITS (UK) also heard from experts from Highways England and Department for Transport plus other academics and leading consultants.  The sessions will be available online in due course.


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