Making sense of a new transport system: an ethnographic study of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway.
PLoS ONE 2012 ; 8: e69254.
PubMed ID : 23935968
An increase in public transport use has the potential to contribute to improving population health, and there is growing interest in innovative public transport systems. Yet how new public transport infrastructure is experienced and integrated (or not) into daily practice is little understood. We investigated how the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, UK, was used and experienced in the weeks following its opening, using the method of participant observation (travelling on the busway and observing and talking to passengers) and drawing on Normalization Process Theory to interpret our data. Using excerpts of field notes to support our interpretations, we describe how the ease with which the new transport system could be integrated into existing daily routines was important in determining whether individuals would continue to use it. It emerged that there were two groups of passengers with different experiences and attitudes. Passengers who had previously travelled frequently on regular bus services did not perceive the new system to be an improvement; consequently, they were frustrated that it was differentiated from and not coherent with the regular system. In contrast, passengers who had previously travelled almost exclusively by car appraised the busway positively and perceived it to be a novel and superior form of travel. Our rich qualitative account highlights the varied and creative ways in which people learn to use new public transport and integrate it into their everyday lives. This has consequences for the introduction and promotion of future transport innovations. It is important to emphasise the novelty of new public transport, but also the ways in which its use can become ordinary and routine. Addressing these issues could help to promote uptake of other public transport interventions, which may contribute to increasing physical activity and improving population health.