Improving services and sustainability through better jobs and democracy


Carlos F Pardo
Service quality is defined as the relationship between what customers expect and what they experience, but in public transport it’s not as simple as that.

Public transport has to serve the whole community, and different people need different things. Policy makers and  planners have to take that into account, and their budgets are always limited.

There is no agreed international methodology for measuring public transport quality, but we think it can be boiled down to the following 12 issues:

  • Accessibility: How easy is it for everyone, including people with disabilities, to use the service?
  • Affordability: Are costs recovered in a way that enables everyone to use public transport?
  • Availability: Does the service go where it is needed at the times and frequency needed?
  • Communication: Can you get information where, when and in the form needed?
  • Convenience: How easily can you find out about timetables, and pay fares, and so on?
  • Enjoyment: Is the experience of using transport services a comfortable and pleasant one?
  • Integration: Is it easy to switch between modes and services?
  • Reliability: Does the service keep to schedule and maintain standards consistently?
  • Respect: Are workers and passengers treated with the dignity as human beings with rights?
  • Responsiveness: Are problems and complaints addressed properly in a timely way?
  • Safety: Are the health and security of passengers and workers protected?
  • Speed: Does the service get there quickly enough, relative to private alternatives?

What do you think? What have we got wrong? What have we overlooked? Please let us know.

All of the categories above can be broken down further into much more specific elements, and there are always trade-offs. For example, if a bus stops frequently it serves more people and places, but less quickly, whereas buses that don’t stop much get their longer distance passengers to their destinations sooner. So both kinds of services are needed, and the quality of any particular service must be judged not only in itself but also in terms of its contribution to the whole system.

The nature and relative importance of each element varies not only from one city to another but also between different parts of the same city. And some elements matter more to some people than to others, and at some times more than others. For women at night, for example, personal security might be the a key quality issue, while for people using wheelchairs there are basic issues of accessibility.

Good services require good workforces to provide them, and that requires good employment and good management.

Online resources

What do good public transport services look like? — QPT Briefing No. 3

Unions say No to Violence

Security in public transport systems, IATP

US FTA Handbook for Measuring Customer Satisfaction and Quality

European Union Proceed project Guidelines for High Quality Public Transport

The high public price of Britain’s private railway

Offline resources

Chris A. Hale (2011), “New Approaches To Strategic Urban Transport Assessment,” Australian Planner, Vol. 48/3, 173-182.

David Levinger and Maggie McGehee (2008), “Connectivity: Responding to New Trends Through a Usability Approach,” Community Transportation, Spring 2008, pp. 33-37

Stephen G. Stradling, Michael Carreno, Tom Rye and Allyson Noble (2007), “Passenger Perceptions And The Ideal Urban Bus Journey Experience,” Transport Policy, Vol. 14, No. 4, July 2007, pp. 283-292.

Greg Marsden and Peter Bonsall (2006), “Performance Targets in Transport Policy,” Transport Policy, Vol. 13, No. 3, May 2006, pp. 191-203.

AARP (2005), Livable Communities: An Evaluation Guide, AARP Public Policy Institute

Jeffrey Tumlin, Jarrett Walker, Jemae Hoffman and Ria Hutabarat (2005) Performance Measures for the Urban Village Transit Network, Transport Research Board Annual Meeting