Social travel behaviour: we travel differently when we travel together

There are all sorts of reasons why people choose a certain means of transport. Some factors that play a role are: planning the journey; the experience of the journey itself; the environment (location of the bus stops and the roads, weather conditions) and finally the interaction with the information (Where do you get your information from? Do you use GPS, apps, the information in the station? etc.).

It is useful for the TMaaS team, which is currently designing the user dashboard interface, to map out all these issues. We provide a personal user profile for instance that will form the basis of the personalised TMaaS dashboard. As much relevant data as possible must be processed in this. Do the users have a car? Are they mobile? Do they take this route on a regular basis? This info can form a basis for sending targeted messages to the future users of the TMaaS dashboard.

Research into social travel behaviour

Part of our research focuses on “social travel behaviour”. How do people behave when they travel with someone else? By this we mean real travel partners who choose to take the same route together (so not two people who happen to take the same bus).

When planning journeys, people take three things into consideration: the mode (i.e. the means of transport they use), the route and the timing of the trip. The social aspect appears to have an impact on all these choices. For example, if you yourself do not have a car, but the person you are travelling with does, then you are presented with an additional option. Your route may also change according to another person. Perhaps you are making a journey just because someone else has to be at a certain place (for example your child who has to go to his/her drawing lesson). The different options can also affect the timing. A specific observation we made in Ghent is that people who transport their children by bike, for example, make a conscious decision to take a safe route.

Taking account of social travel

At present, route planners and mobility dashboards do not really take the social aspect of travel behaviour into account. However, this could be an interesting avenue for TMaaS to look at. That is why we formulate a number of recommendations based on our research into social travel behaviour:

  • One could connect the movements of a group of people with each other and link it to a kind of group notification system. All the members of a certain group would receive the same information at the same time. One restriction here is that it is only possible to use the information about people who have registered for this.
  • Another, possibly even easier, solution might be to share one’s travel route with others. They could import this information into their own apps or dashboards.
  • It could be useful to include the option of adding a specific location to one’s route (for instance, because someone needs to be picked up).
  • Carpooling is also a form of social travel. As soon as software recognises different patterns, it could put people making similar journeys in contact with each other and thus promote carpooling.

 Method: a journey diary

We asked the participants in our user survey to keep a diary of their movements for a period of two weeks. All participants received cards on which they noted where they were going, how they approached their journeys and what they took into consideration when carrying out the journeys. During the next phase, interviews were held with each of the participants during which the cards were discussed. This gave our research team real facts based on which they were able to ascertain how people think about their travel behaviour. This produced a broad picture of the travel behaviour of city dwellers.

Background information

Kevin Sanders is a researcher at Mintlab, a research group that is part of the Faculty of Social Sciences at KU Leuven. At the request of TMaaS, it maps out the travel patterns of Ghent residents. As part of this project, it focuses on social travel behaviour, or how our travel behaviour is affected when we travel together with others.

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