One of the upsides of public transport over using my car is that I can get work done when otherwise my time would be entirely unproductive. The point was emphasised yesterday when, sat on a train heading from Aberdeen to Edinburgh, I was downloading my pictures from the previous 24 hours. On screen came the Lothian trams on test I had shot from my hotel window in the early hours of the morning. The man sat next to me commented on them, subsequently introducing himself as Ben Twist, Director of Creative Carbon Scotland.
He is undertaking a part time PHD involving practical research on whether it is possible to work with all the necessary components of the system to increase sustainable travel to His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen by audiences.
Most behavioural change is predicated on the psychological approach of incentivising an individual to persuade them to change their ways, he noted, but it is more complicated than that because actually there are a lot of social norms and habits, as well as infrastructure and other barriers, that are not in the individual’s power to change. If there isn’t a bus that goes where you want to go you can’t catch it.
Ben’s approach is to look at the whole system to find out whether there are changes that can be made to achieve the desired end. It might be that a number of small changes rather than one big one would enable people to change their behaviour.
As an example; most people drive to His Majesty’s Theatre. It could be that the buses don’t run late enough or frequently enough or don’t stop in the right place or just that people haven’t considered the advantage it might give them – he doesn’t know yet. He does know that at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness the show generally finishes after the last bus has gone; so why not put on an earlier performance one night a week, he asks?
It’s still an early stage for the research which may take a long time. He’s currently undertaking a survey into what the current travel pattern is, meeting people from relevant organisations, with representatives of First and Stagecoach on his list.
He has already learned that in Berlin, a number of bus departures are timed for 15 minutes after the end of performances at the Philharmonic Hall. It even says on the stops that bus times will vary according to when show ends.
His Majesty’s has 1,500 seats and the nearby Music Hall has around 1,300 so between them there are 2,800 potential bus passengers. If you could attract 10% of them you’d have three full buses. Through logging, he has already identified that most attendees live on the main corridors. Travelling by bus has the advantage for audiences that they can drink which means that the theatre and the bus company can potentially earn more, ‘so it’s win, win, win.’
An early suggestion he has come up with is a screen in the theatre foyer with a live bus departures board, the information for which probably already exists. Not only would it help existing users it would tell current non users that other people do use the bus. It could be a good intervention and in theory it would cost little. Other ideas will no doubt follow.
The other thing about travelling on public transport is that sometimes you meet really interesting people – and if you don’t you can just get on with your work.
You can contact Ben at [email protected]