Unravelling Mobility; a 40 Year Journey in Empirical Research

What is the role of passenger transport? Should it have social, environmental or commercial priorities? What percentage of modal split should it be achieving? How can we identify what prevents people using it and design it so that most people make it their first option for most of their journeys? Has passenger transport become focussed on technical issues – outputs, rather than on the needs of potential users – outcomes? How do we investigate, or predict, the patterns of the journeys that people would like to make and develop a passenger transport system that is relevant for the majority of people’s movements? What system of passenger transport could deliver equality of mobility? Re-inventing public transport would take decades; developing new skills through pilot projects and then re-training people throughout the profession. It would take a shift in the prevailing economic and social paradigm and sustained political support from successive governments.

Is the task remotely possible given the strength of the political status quo and professional inertia; the quest to be re-elected rather than give long term informed and moral leadership, the quest to maintain professional and academic status? The required changes have to be seen in the context of some dramatic global issues that will dominate the political agenda of the coming decades.


Mobility is the essence of modern social and economic life; without it, you can participate in neither. In the early 1970s, postgraduate Transportation Planning and Engineering courses began by pointing out that “Transport is an intermediary good, a means to an end, not an end in itself.” But courses then went on to focus on techniques; none were put in the context of individual mobility. We were being educated to become technocrats, not people movers. So what makes a service accessible?

Defining an Accessible Service. For a service to be accessible to anyone, they must:

1 Know about it                2 Be confident to use it

3 Be able to get to it        4 Be able to get on it

5 Be able to afford it

And it must 6 Go where they want to go 7 Go when they want to go

This seven fold list is deliberately expressed in simple terms to make it easy to remember, communicate and understand, not just by professionals but by potential service users who need to know that they can trust the professionals. If all seven conditions are satisfied, then someone may use a service. If they use the service, if they make a journey, only then do they have mobility.

Reductionism Over the last thirty years or so, the whole area of access, mobility has been reduced to a consideration of some aspects of the physical access needs of some people with disabilities. So commonly now, committees , working groups and even campaigning groups take a very reductionist approach to access and mostly do not examine mobility; they are output focussed rather than outcome focussed, a huge difference. During the 1980s campaigners challenged thinking and were pro-active in trying to influence the agenda. Now they are mostly reacting to institutionalised agendas, even accepting institutionalised labelling and terminology.

There is a simplistic assumption that all that is needed to solve the transport problems of people with “disabilities”, is to make existing passenger services accessible. There is no analysis of the role fulfilled by existing passenger services (all modes), nor is there any attempt to understand what people would do if they could travel; what their travel behaviour would be, what their journey patterns would look like and how the mix of existing services might serve a restricted proportion of that need, to investigate why some people don’t use passenger transport at all or typically, why existing users make such a low use of it (as a percentage of trips by all modes).

Public Transport or Commercial Passenger Transport? In the UK, in most of the country, passenger transport services have been deregulated. The primary role of passenger transport is to generate income for company shareholders. If we apply stock market averages to these shareholders, then about 50% of them live outside of the UK and have little or no interest in the functioning of communities in the UK. In most of the UK we now have Commercial Passenger Transport services, (CPT), not Public Transport in the sense that the service is a public good, planned and delivered primarily for the good of the public. As Kate Raworth (2017) puts it, “…..there is no such thing as deregulation, only reregulation that embeds the market in a different set of political, legal and cultural rules, simply shifting who bears the risks and costs and who reaps the gains of change.”Commercial companies have no social responsibility, no social conscience, just a legal responsibility to shareholders to maximise their income.

With deregulation the powers of the Local Authority to support local bus services have been drastically reduced. After deregulation, they could influence, but not determine, routes on approximately 10% or less of the network and were under extreme pressure due to service withdrawals. There were new mechanisms for subsidies (e.g. Fuel Duty Rebate, Concessionary Travel) that were paid directly to the operator, by-passing the local authority. The total subsidies being paid were very similar to those previously paid by the Local authority to support services in a regulated environment. But now, the local authority could do little or nothing to influence the patterns of provision. Should there be new social, economic or health stresses in the community due to the withdrawal of the local services and a sudden drastic reduction in mobility for those without access to a car, then those issues would have to be addressed by other departments within the local authority or by the local health board. Classical economics does not evaluate externalities. We now live not in the age of “economically rational man”, the basic condition for classical micro-economic theory, but in the age of “economically irrational man.”

Unambiguous Professional and Academic Terminology. I think most people would understand the difference between “cross city traffic” and “inter-city traffic”. It would be sound to use the term “cross sector costs and benefits” to refer to the costs and benefits accruing across the transport sector and the term “inter-sectoral costs and benefits” to refer to all costs and benefits between all sectors of the economy. Some of these costs and benefits are readily quantifiable but a significant proportion of costs and benefits, while sound conceptually, are as yet unquantified. They are not unquantifiable, but the necessary microeconomic work to derive acceptable values has not been done; the macro-economic models have not yet been built, so there can be no appropriate analysis. It can take up to 15 years to develop workable new economic models and widely accepted values. But in a society that has become increasingly reductionist, how likely is it that this holistic approach to inter-sectoral analysis will take place? There are many other unsound terms e.g. disabled access, disabled parking, disabled groups, fully accessible, disabled route, disabled toilets, even “loading” wheelchair users.

An Empirical Approach to Research. Over the last 40 years I have played a role in developing new services which were all aimed at revealing rather than determining demand. Starting as pilot projects based on intensive local research, these services increased in capacity and in spatial coverage until, together, they were delivering 4,000,000 passenger trips per annum. The first of these services, ReadiBus, was a National Pilot project set up as part of the International Year for Disabled People (IYDP, 1981). It was based on research into unmet transport needs by a social work team at Bulmershe College, and had identified that the main need amongst people with disabilities was for a door to door service (i.e. demand responsive transport (DRT). A finding replicated in other studies over the years, but now commonly ignored.  The objective was to design and implement a service that would attract any user who had either no, or limited mobility, due to a physical, mental or sensory impairment. With the support of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, the Typology and Geography Departments at the University of Reading and a consultant (Margaret Heraty) appointed by the Department of Transport, every aspect of service design was analysed and optimised.

The Need for Monitoring and Evaluation. From the very early days of this pilot, it was obvious that a key element of the project was the monitoring and evaluation of outcomes. Who was travelling – by age, gender and location; how many people were wheelchair users, how many people needed to board while in a wheelchair, how many people needed to board using the passenger lift, what type of journeys – by purpose – were people making; what was the timing of demand; what were the spatial patterns of movement, etc? The design of service image, advertising and marketing were assessed for effectiveness; dispatching techniques were optimised both for the benefit of users and staff and to maximise bus revenue operating hours (BROH), the amount of time that the buses were actually available to passengers as a proportion of shift time. In this way, the service could maximise its capacity, try and appeal to a full cross section of potential users and be operationally efficient in terms of keeping unit cost to a minimum. The rate of take up, a combination of new users and increasing use per user was analysed to make projections about the need for additional resources, what would be needed and when. Detailed budgetary analysis and projection are an essential part of any empirical experiment if the long term aim is for the service to become part of the local authority budgetary process. With our growing knowledge it was essential to understand remaining in-built barriers and understand who was still not using the service, or using it only for specific purposes. In developing and configuring service delivery, we had to consider how to serve all needs and be most efficient considering, therefore, the potential to use all modes of passenger transport.

Cost reduction in service delivery had to be done without introducing barriers to use for any section of the target population. While the service had been launched to explore the mobility needs of people with a disability, monitoring of users showed that the majority of trips made were by older people, aged over 70, usually with multiple impairments, 80% of all trips were being made by women. Most of these customers did not associate with the label “disabled”. We were careful to ask of any problems they had “getting about”, rather than “have you a disability?” Attitudes and the sensitivity of the language used by all staff is a vital part of training and day to day procedures. This characteristic has emerged wherever I have worked from the U.S.A. to the Black Sea. Over 30 years on it was still a significant issue to recognise in developing services in the Kingdom of Fife, in Scotland. One lady typified many responses when enquiring if she was eligible to use the service; “I fell and broke my hip a year ago. My knees are a bit worn out; I have a touch of arthritis and I’ve got cataracts now. Oh, and I had a stroke and I’ve had a bit of a heart problem for some time now. But I’m NOT disabled!”  Another common response was, “No son, I’m not disabled. This is just what happens to you as you get old.”

So transport for people with disabilities morphed into services which were aimed at anyone experiencing a mobility handicap due to a physical, mental or sensory impairment, permanent or temporary. During discussions at the ECMT (The European Standing Conference of Ministers of Transport) working group on Transport for People With a Mobility Handicap, an appropriate and all-encompassing term emerged, People With Reduced Mobility (PRM). It should be understood that the term, and the design approach, can be applied to the whole population and all passenger transport.

A Research Culture. A vital aspect of pilot project design was the development of a “research culture” amongst the staff. All staff, drivers, escorts, and dispatchers, had different types of contact with the customers. Customers would build relationships with staff and start to share with them things that they would not have talked about during a conventional interview. They would share things with an escort that they wouldn’t share with a driver. They would share things with a female driver that they wouldn’t share with a male driver. Dispatchers were a first point of contact for every journey. The phone can give some kind of anonymity and once the relationship had been built up, some customers would share things about their situation with dispatchers that they wouldn’t share with other staff.

Feeling part of a “research team” gives staff a greater interest in their job, makes them more alert to what people are saying to them. Drivers started to come in and say “There was a woman out there today who hadn’t been out for two years.” Another driver would chip in, “I had someone who hadn’t been out for four years.” This went on, and I remember one lady, Edna , who hadn’t seen her sister, who lived just two streets away, for 14 years. The development of new services or the further development of existing services, is not transactional work, you are not just a “bus operator”. Your job is to facilitate people’s lives. It is transformational work.

Surveys.  While Director of the D.Tp’s National Advisory Unit for Community Transport, (NAUCT), I supported people in carrying out surveys locally. In Plymouth, one interviewer tried to interview people in some deck access flats. Ray knocked on the door of one flat, saw the net curtain move, but the door didn’t open. He went away and reflected on all we had discussed. The next day he returned with his elderly aunt and again knocked on the door. This time when the net curtain was lifted, only the elderly aunt was visible; the door opened. They found a lady with severe walking difficulties who could not remember when she had last been out; she had not been off that floor of the deck access flats for at least four years. She was even afraid to be taken out by car for a look around the city, but when she did she was shocked to see so much change. Places she retained a mental picture of had changed completely. We encountered this issue in other areas. Sometimes there was a request to be dropped off in a familiar place only to find that the place had been completely demolished and replaced by new buildings. On occasion people went into mild shock and couldn’t be left. Their world had completely changed. People who have not travelled for some time are not used to even low speeds. A driver may think that driving carefully at 30 mph is smooth and slow, but to someone who has not been out for a long time, 30 mph can be terrifying and may be such a bad experience that they don’t use the service again, and pass on a frightening impression to friends.

Occasionally I had the opportunity to go out and act as an escort, or drive a shift myself. There is no substitute when involved in research for total immersion in your subject area. The benefits of immersion are now being recognised in academic studies. Interviews with PRM, even semi-structured interviews, have proved to be of limited value. At best one can determine what people are currently doing and what they are not doing, then compare the results with the mobility of a mobile peer group. People can’t tell you what they don’t know. You are trying to take people beyond what they think is possible. (This applies to transportation engineers too.) Over time, a more formal Framework for Effective Participation was developed as part of the overall planning process. This framework involved people with mobility difficulties, people who knew people with mobility difficulties (friends, relatives, people involved in providing professional support), people with useful data (e.g. population data, indicators of need or deprivation, data describing the travel patterns of the mobile population), and local politicians.

This “planning team”, people for whom the issue of mobility is important personally or who find it is an important issue on their professional or political agenda, must have contact on a regular basis. It is an interactive process which depends on information sharing, education, and communication. The process cannot be sustained without the participation of a wide range of people with different skills. Above all, an understanding of how someone becomes immobile and the problems to be overcome if they are to travel again can be accomplished only through close and regular contact between professionals and people with reduced mobility. Effective participation means going out and finding people, in making new contacts. People who have most to contribute may not always promote themselves. They may not be used to expressing a view, not believe they will be valued or listened to, or they may themselves devalue their own knowledge and opinions. Many times I found groups of older or disabled people who had never dreamed that a friendly service that they could afford, would come to their door, that they could be helped to the bus which would be easy to board, and that they could choose where and when to go. Such a concept was as impossible as dreaming of a trip to the moon. This lack of understanding led to conventional interviewers saying “Good morning madam. Have you any unmet transport needs?” To be met by the response, “No, I don’t go out.” Or many people interviewed would just say that they would like one special trip out, to see the Trossachs again, to visit their husband’s grave, or the church in which they had been married. They could not conceive of having every-day mobility to do what they wanted.

Outcome Statistics. Let’s look at some statistics based on data captured from several millions of trips, mainly from the West Midlands and Greater Manchester. I hope that you will see that the approach advocating that the long run solution to give mobility to PRM is simply to make existing services accessible is too simplistic. The people who advocate this strategy are making assumptions, the biggest being that existing passenger transport (all modes), which is used, in the UK,  to make only about 15% of the trips of people who are mobile, will provide for 100% of the trips needed to be made by PRM. Is this logical? Would that deliver “equality of mobility”? Let’s compare the outcome monitoring of trips made by PRM with National Travel Survey Data (NTS) for the same period. Modal split, journey purposes, trip distances, etc have all changed over time. (The updated statistics can easily be accessed in the UK and hopefully in other Member States.) I do not use outcome statistics from current DRT operations. Once the R and D support is withdrawn many changes, both large and small, are made over time. Those involved in service operations often see the task as tactical management rather than as a strategic development and can be unaware of how changes can start to influence the profile of users and the use they make of the service. Occasionally Company Board Members can be in a position to impose changes based on opinions or political prejudices and be in ignorance of the original “mission statement” of the organisation or the complexity and sensitivity of the systems design. So, I’m using historic data as it is data I can trust, produced at a time when NAUCT was still providing development support and detailed design parameters.

Research and development input can provide the energy required to support a rationale, direction and structure for service development. Transactional management has led to the gradual erosion of the rationale, the down grading of the operation, an end to development, the adoption of lesser objectives such as savings. Services either develop or decay. The priority of mobilising people, of gaining service users has commonly been replaced by the priority of making savings since the financial crisis of 2007/8 or even before.

The vast majority of trips represented in the NTS data were made by car as either a driver or passenger. Some were made on motorcycle, on cycles, and on foot. The accessible services for PRM had to provide a complete package of trip opportunities. Immediately one can see significant differences between the two populations. In addition, the NTS journeys made by routed passenger transport are highly focussed on trips to work, education and large shopping centres. So for the mobile population, passenger transport services are targeted at volume movements associated with specific journey purposes. These are high volume movements producing the most profits. However, they are mainly “tidal flows” with virtually empty vehicles on return runs, before pensioners start to travel through the day using their free bus passes. Although shopping trips account for a similar percentage, they are of a different character. PRM tend to make several shopping trips buying a little each time, as much as they can carry.  DRT systems help them to make a larger shop, to buy more in one outing, allowing more economic quantities to be bought, but the services usually have to limit purchases to about 5 shopping bags worth. But note, PRM are not shopaholics, and their trip patterns do not focus on getting to a doctor or hospital, both being common misjudgements by people with little experience of working with PRM. Older people’s shopping is mainly for subsistence products reflecting the age range and the high correlation with low disposable income.

Trip Purpose       NTS data        Outcome data for PRM
Social visiting 1720
Social club or centre 20
Social entertainment620
Personal business2211
Health related5
Work 201


Figures have been rounded and are expressed as percentages.

Trip distances were monitored showing a general trend for more short trips being made as age increased. For all users over 65, 70% of their trips were within a radius of 1.5 miles, and passengers in this age band accounted for 85% of the trips being made. Far less than 1% of trips involved interchange at a transport “hub”. Hence, the main need is for basic local movements.

The patterns of journeys being made were also monitored. We were looking for trips that would come together to form a route and possibly provide an opportunity for reducing the unit cost of some trips, allowing us to increase the overall capacity of the service within the current budget. Even with the most efficient DRT service, the cost per trip was 5 to 10 times higher than the cost of a trip on a routed vehicle, and in inefficient systems, as high as 50 times higher. However, no routing opportunities emerged. This finding has major implications when considering the relevance of existing routes, scheduled to serve the three main volume movements mentioned above, when they are operated with the new generation of more accessible vehicles. In Fife, Social Workers, who are the people who know most about a wide spectrum of PRM, reported that the existing routed services, now “accessible”, were making no difference to their clients.

Elasticity of Demand. In effect then, there are (at least) two populations each with distinct characteristics. When considering passenger transport, the use of, or relevance of, any particular mode, we cannot talk about “people” or “the whole population”. We must recognise that the population is stratified and does not have a uniform behaviour. In some areas fares for DRT services were charged, commonly above the fare that would have been charged had customers been able to use routed systems. What we learned from this was that demand was highly elastic in relation to price (fares), even with modest charges. This aspect is logical if one considers the high correlation between, age, impairment and low disposable income (or even poverty).

With modest charges, there was an immediate response. For some people the overall trip making rate would fall. The most visible change was in journey purposes. All three types of social trips would stop, up to 60% of demand. Next to go would be education, especially for older people where evening classes were classed as education. Then shopping trips and trips for personal business would stop. The hard core of the trips would be health related, to opticians, chiropodists, dentists, activities that people couldn’t send someone on their behalf. But it would be misleading to then assume that what was most important to PRM were health related trips; that they gained more utility from them or “enjoyed” them more than trips for other purposes.


Earlier, I set out the 7 factors which make a service accessible; they are relevant for all people. Implicit in this list is that if all 7 factors are not fulfilled, then there will be one or more barriers to using the service, to trip making, to mobility. Can these barriers be structured in any systematic schema that can act as a design guide and an aid to understanding? Based on the conversations with users when they were establishing their eligibility, feedback from road staff, many group interviews or one to one interviews and based on all the principles that have to be applied to the systems design, I identified three types of barrier; those due to Personal Factors, to Environmental Factors and to Trip Related Factors; the PET factors

1 Personal Factors fall into several separate categories:

  1. Health related – Arthritis


         Heart condition

         Vision problems

         Respiratory condition


  1. Frailty – because of medical conditions
  2. Frailty – due to age
  3. Limited endurance
  4. Lack of energy and muscle tone
  5. Fear – of something bad happening while out, or not being able to get home again
  6. Limited knowledge of destinations – friends, family, shops, leisure facilities, etc
  7. Low expectations
  8. Liquidity (disposable income after meeting all necessary outgoings)
  9. Age


Each one of these factors varies enormously for each person, e.g. Arthritis. Is it osteo-arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis? Is it stable, is it cyclical, is it progressive? If it is progressive, what stage is it at now and how rapidly is it progressing? Which part of the body is affected – a hand, a leg, the spine? Is the person still mobile, has restricted mobility or can move only by using a wheelchair or scooter? I found that it was the norm for people to be affected by several health related factors and several other personal factors. It must be understood that there is always a degree of interdependence between these factors. Hence the mix of personal factors will, for any given person, change during the course of the day, with environmental changes, over a period of days or with the seasons, and with the type of trip being considered.

2 Environmental Factors A person’s ability to travel is affected by the environment;

  1. Is it excessively hot?
  2. Is it excessively cold?
  3. Is it excessively windy?
  4. Is it raining heavily?
  5. Is it snowing?
  6. Is there ice on the pavements?
  7. Is there dust in the air?
  8. Are there fumes from traffic or industry?
  9. Is the pollen count high?
  10. Are the pavements broken or uneven?
  11. Are footways paved or muddy?
  12. Are kerbs high?
  13. Does the person live on a hill?
  14. Is the required destination on a hill?
  15. Are there seats (sheltered) to act as resting places?
  16. Are toilet facilities available?


More than one factor at a time will affect mobility. Again, some factors are inter-dependant, for example the combination of a dry and dusty environment and high wind.

3 Trip Related Factors Several aspects of making a trip can present obstacles and act as a deterrent to movement;

  1. The length of the trip (increasing fatigue with distance, the need for interchange.)
  2. The time at which it is necessary to make the trip
  3. The nature of the destination – is it a sheltered environment or a hostile environment?
  4. The purpose of the trip – is it relaxing, a quiet visit to a friend, or fatiguing, negotiating a busy shopping centre?
  5. The person may have difficulty, or cannot get to, a bus stop (distance to the bus stop and the ability and confidence to walk there is a very significant factor. What are current target distances in both urban and rural environments? In the UK they used to be 400 metres and 1000 metres respectively. Compare this with surveys of people’s ability to walk, and halve that ability, as if anything goes wrong, they need to get back home or to a safe place.)
  6. It is not possible to get on the vehicle
  7. The bus routes do not serve the required destination
  8. Put off by staff attitudes
  9. Put off by a stigmatised service image
  10. Cost
  11. Not understanding how to use the service and not confident to try (is support available during a period of familiarisation?)
  12. Inadequate quality of ride (suspension and driving characteristics which can trigger some medical conditions, some of which can be fatal)
  13. A hostile, confusing terminal environment (e.g. major rail stations)

Again, several of these trip related factors can be of significance simultaneously. Several of the factors are inter-dependant. There will always be new factors to identify.

To someone involved in planning conventional services the detailed considerations in the above schema may appear esoteric, academic, theoretical, and impossible to take account of. But they are not derived from theory but from practice. As service planners we have a duty to understand all people at the level of the individual and plan and design services for the whole population so that the service embodies the needs of the individual. Without an in depth understanding of the whole market characteristics, we will design services suitable for the few and be ignorant of why some people do not use a service. When someone is considering going out, making a trip, then their evaluation is more complex still as they will “feel” whether they can go out or not based on a simultaneous sub-conscious consideration of personal, environmental and trip related factors; all at once.

03. Dynamics

We cannot interpret reduced mobility as a static condition. People’s level of capability cannot be assessed at one point in time. The degree of reduction in mobility, the significance of current barriers, changes with the interplay of the PET factors. Different factors will take on a different level of significance for each trip considered. The terms “disabled” or “disabled and elderly” are totally inadequate as meaningful categories to aid the planning of passenger transport. Many people with a disability do not have reduced mobility. Many older people do not have reduced mobility. Most people who have some form of disability do not see themselves as “disabled”. Most older people do not like to be called “elderly”. At most 15 to 20% of PRM will relate to the term “disabled” and then, not necessarily through choice. But some people will wear the term “disabled” as a badge that gives them identity and some credibility amongst those with little knowledge, or act as a passport to membership of a committee.

Most people with a disability are not aware of the whole spectrum of factors which lead to reduced mobility in the whole population. Nor are they aware of the patterns of latent demand and consequently of the relevance of different modes in providing mobility. At best, people with a disability may be able to speak for their own experience with using existing services, but may be ignorant of the need for the development of an integrated multi modal system of passenger transport, planned and financed as a public good. Using people with a disability on transport committees or professional working groups could be seen as an abdication of professional responsibility and a lack of essential expertise by transportation planners who have not been trained in a “people centred” approach to  the design and development of passenger transport. To effectively engage with PRM takes more time, more involvement, more sensitivity, more day to day commitment and effort, sometimes being willing to take responsibility for people, being willing to enter their heads and see their world view.

People with disabilities and transport professionals who serve on various committees and working groups usually show little interest in outcomes and have little knowledge of people that the services are still not suitable for, the structure of the market, optimisation of designs, a strategic development plan, an understanding of Government revenue streams. Legislation has been passed which requires “consideration of the needs of people with disabilities and older people”, but this can be done without doing anything substantive.  You cannot legislate for knowledge and motivation, for caring and passion, for aptitude.  Social studies, behaviouralism, is not the terrain, or usually the interest, of transportation engineers. Having to “consult” can just be an inconvenience, a one off tokenistic annual event. Joining a working group or committee can place someone with a disability in a responsive situation, one in which they have to participate within the established approach and agenda of the group, even if it is wrong. People will go on talking about what they are comfortable talking about rather than learning new skills to discuss what needs to be analysed.

The recognition of the role of personal, environmental and trip related (PET) factors, enables us to recognise barriers to movement for ALL people. This knowledge and understanding can then be translated into the specification of an operating system which hopefully designs out as many barriers as possible. The PET analysis could be expanded to identify why car drivers choose to use their car over passenger transport and lead to the detailed specification of passenger transport provision that would attract them. The development of this methodology has been based on serving the needs of people with the greatest mobility difficulties, but it could easily be extended and applied to everyone – not that it’s easy to get people out of their car, but who has really tried to build a real alternative with positive characteristics to attract them. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, “Public Transport is for poor people.”

Two Populations.    Unfortunately the current non-analytic reductionist approach has split the PRM population. In the UK with committees and working groups concentrating primarily on making existing services and the built environment accessible to people with disabilities they prefer the interests of what I will call Type A PRM characterised thus:


They have knowledge of where to go, are still in touch with friends; have confidence to go out, have expectations, muscle tone, have reasonable to high energy levels they have liquidity or a professional budget to allow them to attend meetings. They are able to walk or propel themselves well beyond the distances set out in “inclusive Mobility” (based on the Office of Population Census and Surveys (OPCS) survey); they are articulate, mentally agile and confident to attend meetings. They are confident IT users.

However, the silent majority of PRM inhabit a different paradigm.


These people have no expectations, no muscle tone, little or no knowledge of where to go, of which of their friends are still alive. They have very low energy, are frail, no longer mentally agile (making a shopping list for a home help may be too challenging without a prompt list – which is not regularly used); they have contact with a very small group of people, mostly professionals and may not see anyone for days. “Contact” with old friends may be limited to reading the “Death notices” column of the local paper. They have very low or no liquidity (30% have to choose between “heating and eating” in winter (Age UK)). They have very low walking distances, are reluctant to use a wheelchair, are non IT users and may have no experience of going out of their home environment or go out in only limited circumstances e.g. by non-emergency ambulance or hospital car schemes for out-patient treatment, or by Social Services transport to day centres. They are very vulnerable to infections due to a low immune system. To 30% or more, the effects of falling and fractures, are fatal within 12 months (Health Board Stats). They have a fear of going out (the psychological effect of “bad news” on TV and in other media that form their view of the outside world). They are predominantly, but not exclusively, in the higher age ranges, 70 +). The majority have multiple impairments, but do not consider themselves to be “disabled”. They are the long suffering “silent majority”, they are a race apart, and they inhabit every country and society that I have worked in.

Labels and Categories.   Planners must understand the categorisations they use. There is a difference between people with disabilities and people with reduced mobility. As Kerlinger (1969) pointed out in his seminal work, many years ago, “If categorisations are not set up according to the demands of the research problem, then there can be no adequate answers to the research question.” If the recruitment of people with disabilities onto committees and working groups is in the name of being representative or democratic, then in my experience, it is not. To be representative, the majority of “user representatives” would have to be older people, the majority of whom would be over 75. They would still have to have complete knowledge of many of the factors set out above, have some understanding of how the transport system works – of different modes and their relative significance, and be able to make articulate contributions to push for the appropriate development of a suitable passenger transport system. Of course, people comfortably working within the paradigm of PRM-A will challenge this thinking. But the proof of the pudding is in the outcomes. Who have they mobilised, by age, by gender, how often are they travelling, for what journey purposes and how are their trip patterns developing as they gain confidence and experience and perhaps make new social contacts? Who is still not travelling? Unless outputs can be linked to outcomes, to me they don’t count, they remain theoretical, hypothetical. What are the operational goals of people comfortable with working in the paradigm of PRM-A? March and Simon (1993) wrote that the operationality of goals refers to “the extent to which it is possible to observe and test how well goals are being achieved.” Subsequently Hvinden (2003) added, “General objectives, for instance in disability policy, have to be translated into more concrete and specific operational goals. Objectives that are not operationalised remain statements of good intentions and their main significance may be of a symbolic nature.”

Passenger Logistics.  An integrated multi-modal system of passenger transport is needed, with trips allocated to the lowest cost mode, directly analogous to freight transport. Such a system could effectively reduce the overwhelming dependence on the private car. However, such a system cannot be financed by income from the fares box. It needs to be developed and financed as a public good. That would need Revenue funding. Most of the recommendations put forward by the various working groups and committees, being output oriented require capital funding which is far easier than an ongoing commitment to Revenue Funding. However, capital expenditure, on, for example the street environment, will require revenue funding for maintenance or policing, or the environment will soon degrade. The rational for ongoing, expanding, revenue funding would have to be validated by new methods of inter-sectoral evaluation and socio-economic models.

Phases of Development.  Tellingly, during the period of R & D support for services such as the West Midlands and Greater Manchester Ring and Ride schemes, the services grew in capacity and spatial coverage. The West Midlands service grew to be the fourth largest in the World. Once R & D support was withdrawn, growth in demand slowed down and then flat lined. One thing I learned during this phase was that people have different aptitudes. Without R & D input, which included proactive marketing and advocacy at Local Government Committees, services were run as a large transactional bus company and demand started to decline. Accessible services first attract those people who are most confident to go out, the easiest to attract, people who still have contact with friends or who occasionally visit a few places by getting a lift. They start to travel independently. Once you get those people using the service, the job gets progressively harder. I cannot emphasise this enough. And if your main market is people aged over 75, the death rate is rapidly diminishing your list of customers. Getting the “easy” people first is probably true of any service development, for instance those trying to effect a modal switch. As services expand from an initial pilot, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the necessary quality of delivery and barriers to use can creep in.

The Psychology; Reducing Expectations. On becoming immobile, social workers usually have little choice but to persuade people to stop thinking of going out again; to accept living within the confines of their home. In effect, people are brainwashed into reduced expectations as a method of reducing their dependence on tranquilisers and anti-depressants. They are encouraged to accept a retreat into what has been called the “minimum space concept”. A space in which they are severely limited, but secure, unthreatened.  It is very difficult to give the support needed to persuade these people to travel independently again. When you do, you produce a range of new problems. As a service provider you are in a position of being in loco parentis until you know that people are safely home again. They may be frail, confused, vulnerable, and unable to safely cope with the sudden temperature drop of a winter’s evening, non-street wise, easy prey for the unscrupulous, forgetful, confused. As one councillor in Fife observed, “Should anyone over 80 be waiting at a bus stop, even if they can get to it?”

04. THE FUTURE, Competing Areas for Political Action and Expenditure; Putting Mobility in Context

Over the past 40 years I have had perhaps a unique opportunity to work at all levels, from sitting talking to a passenger about their life, being allowed to enter their home, to representing the UK Minister in European negotiations, to taking the knowledge into a country suddenly freed from Soviet shackles, to working with people set back by the aggression of the Vietnam Vets demanding solutions that would not give them the mobility they craved. The lesson to emerge is that passenger transport planning needs to be more analytic, people centred, wide ranging, inter-disciplinary, outcome oriented, an intermediary good; devising through an inter-sectoral analysis, a case for revenue funding for the development of an effective system of public transport, for the whole population. However, we must evaluate the future financial and political climate. Together with the Scottish Minister for Transport, I estimated that to give PRM in Scotland half the mobility of their mobile peers would cost in excess of £1.5 billion per annum. So how achievable is equality of mobility? There are several looming threats to the political agenda in the foreseeable future that will displace any concern about equality issues. They will produce pressures for major capital and revenue expenditure to address critical situations.

The Climate. To finance an appropriate system of passenger transport, tax revenue from a buoyant economy is needed. Will we ever be in that situation again? As Professor Peter Wadhams (2016) wrote recently, “There will never be another era for Man like the one that ended with the economic crisis of 2007.” In the years to come, there will be several issues which come higher on the agenda than developing passenger transport services.  Recently Wasdell (2015) discovered that the amount of CO2 already emitted is sufficient to push the mean global temperature up by 3.7 degrees centigrade. And the CO2 is still being added to, compounded by the huge amounts of methane now being released from the newly exposed shallow Arctic shores and the melting tundra along the shore lines. Conditions in the Arctic are the driver of global climate, not the Antarctic. Depending on where and when methane is released, it has a warming impact over 23 times that of carbon dioxide. The loss of Arctic sea ice is changing the albedo from 0.1 to 0.6+ (i.e. a change from reflecting 90% 0f incoming solar radiation to absorbing 60% of it) resulting in accelerating warming. Have we breached a tipping point, a runaway increase that can’t be reversed?  So in time, the 3.7 degrees  C will certainly increase. In Peter Wadham’s opinion “…governments and peoples alike were too short sighted, ignorant and greedy to make necessary changes…” “The CO2 levels in the atmosphere are already so high that when their warming potential is realized in a few decades, the resulting temperature rise will be catastrophic.”So considering the mobility needs of the population in relation to the escalating crisis of global warming may rank as fiddling while Rome burns; and Athens, Prague, Budapest, London, Paris, Madrid, …….

Metabolic Syndrome. Of course we should consider any changes in the characteristics of the human population that will affect mobility. Since the highly misleading research of Ancel Keys, (discussed by Lustig (2013), Spector (2015), Taubes (2011), etc.)  which prevailed over the prescient approach of John Yudkin (1972) in the UK, we have lived in the age of the “low fat diet”. Due to the serious flaws in the research this period has corresponded to the obesity pandemic. With the food industry business interests sponsoring politicians and supposedly independent research, with jobs and share dividends at stake, how can the situation be reversed? Probably the majority of people still believe that a low fat diet, or even orange juice, is good for them, while consuming endless amounts of refined carbohydrates that send insulin levels sky high, stress the pancreas, and accumulate visceral fat and fat in arteries. The result? The diseases associated with the “Western Diet”, namely, atherosclerosis and stokes, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and dementia, all obesity related. The increase in obesity stresses and wears out joints. The percentage of the population who are now morbidly obese continues to climb, it is a pandemic and the mobility of the sufferers is drastically reduced. The proportion of the population with reduced mobility is increasing with attendant stresses on health and social care systems. The causes of impairments have now shifted onto non-communicable diseases, largely self–imposed through misinformation and the resultant ignorance, encouraged by short term economic interests.

The Economic System. In addition, we have the problem of a western culture brain washed into seeing infinite economic growth both as the norm, as a good thing; as possible. Yet there have been many warnings of this folly from Prof. E. J. Mishan, (1967, 1977) London School of Economics, who published “The Costs of Economic Growth” followed  by “The Economic Growth Debate.” At MIT, the international Club of Rome team published “Limits to Growth” (Donella H. Meadows, et al, (1972))  followed 20 years on by the update “Beyond the Limits” (1992), and a 30 year update” Limits to Growth The 30-Year Update” (2004), and finally, 40 years on, by Jorgen Randers’ (2012) “2052. A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years.”  In 2052 Randers does not deal adequately with the global financial situation which may be the critical factor. The analyses plotted the exhaustion paths of natural resources, or “resource depletion”. No key resource is available in unlimited quantities to support the Western way of life indefinitely. Most are at, approaching or past their peak rate of extraction. What Richard Heinberg (2003, 2011) has called “the low hanging fruit” i.e. the sources of minerals that are easy and cheap to access, have gone.  Tim Jackson (2009) has described “Prosperity Without Growth – Economics for a Finite Planet” but that approach requires  the development of new socio-economic models which could take 10 to 15 years to develop even if their development was being resourced, which it isn’t. Michael Bassey (2012) has described how we might, with non-materialistic wisdom, go through a transition to a more secure, sustainable society in “Convivial Policies for the Inevitable”, but without wisdom on the part of the electorate or an economic and social crash, how likely is it that the transformation will begin. Perhaps the scenario described by Dmitry Orlov (2013) in “The Five Stages of Collapse” is more likely. As yet, the world financial system has not recovered from the crash of 2007/8. Debt levels are increasing again, particularly in the USA which has the base of the world’s financial system in the Dollar. The first of Orlov’s five stages is financial collapse. Unlike other stages of collapse, financial collapse is not gradual; it can happen overnight.

Agriculture.  Large scale food production is heavily dependent upon oil based products for fertilisers and insecticides. However, the structure of the soil is being depleted; minerals and organic matter are not being replaced. The food produced from it is impoverished. We are in any case reaching the end of the oil age, but even if current farming methods can continue, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation have calculated a global average of 60 more harvests being left in the soil. In the UK, we may have 100 harvests, all else being equal. By UN estimates, 6 million hectares of new farmland are needed every year to keep up with the increasing demand for food. The reality is that we are losing 12 million hectares of agricultural land each year through soil degradation. Global warming plays a role too. The new patterns of extreme weather events have reduced the surplus production from North American farms, a surplus that was previously used to feed a large proportion of the population in Africa. Lack of food provokes political unrest. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation issue an international measure of global average food prices, the Food Price Index (FPI). A significant increase in the FPI in 2011 precipitated the “Arab Spring”. The highest rate of population growth is projected to take place in Africa. By 2100 there will be over 3,000,000,000 more people to feed in Africa. What will be the knock on effects for us all? People will migrate or die.

Water Stress. This factor is closely related to food production as well as the basic every day needs of people for drinking, cooking, and washing. In many parts of the world people are now relying on “mined” water, historic reserves. They are not being replenished. This is a time bomb. Some parts of the UK, most notably the South East and East Anglia are in deficit. By 2010, half the population of the world lived under water stress, 3.6 billion people out of 6.9 billion.

Population Growth. Population projections reveal the high probability of a coming crisis for the present economic and social system. The problem is not just a growing total population but the increasing proportion of older people. In many countries projections show that there will be a lack of economically active people to provide the labour needed for the economy to continue. And, because pension and social insurance contributions have not been protected, older people have to rely on a “pay as you go” system whereby their income and social care has to be paid for by tax income from younger economically active people. This is not going to be possible. “National Insurance” contributions in the UK have been a con. The money has not been invested to provide for people’s needs in old age. It has been spent as tax income. An accessible global overview has been given by George Magnus (2009).

05. Conclusion

It is time for radical change. From the above narrative of how to approach the development of services, a methodology can be extracted that can be applied to the whole of passenger transport. One significant omission is a discussion of just how much mobility each individual should have, of what “equality” really means in deliverable rather than theoretical terms. Probably the approaches of John Rawls (2001) and Amartya Sen (2009) on justice and of Martha Nussbaum (2006) who takes justice to considerations of “capabilities” need to be integrated into our analysis. One thing is certain, classical economics is past its limits. A wider analysis is needed, a new economics that includes all the factors dismissed in classical economics as “extrinsic to the evaluation”. The decades of Neoliberalism following Margaret Thatcher’s adoption of Milton Friedman’s “free market” theories have led to increasing inequality and the trend is continuing. Given the lobbying power of the super rich, how can this plutocracy be brought to an end? Yet as Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) have shown, everyone is better off in a more equal society.

In the context of Global Warming, the spread of Metabolic Syndrome, of the inadequacies in our current short term classical economic models, of soil depletion and water stress coupled with over-population and an ageing population, I find it hard to believe that the needs of the PRM will even register. If half of the predictions of what we are to face in the coming decades come true, then the most vulnerable people in society will be the first to suffer. The changes I suggest will sound like heresy to many transportation professionals, but that would be nothing new. So let me end by quoting Dr Candace Pert. (1997) “Truly original, boundary-breaking ideas are rarely welcomed at first, no matter who proposes them. Protecting the prevailing paradigm, science moves slowly, because it doesn’t want to make mistakes. Consequently, genuinely new and important ideas are often subjected to nitpickingly intense scrutiny, if not outright rejection and revulsion, and getting them published becomes a Sisyphean labour. But if the ideas are correct, eventually they will prevail. It may take, as in the case of the new discipline of psychoneuroimmunology, a good decade, or it may take longer. But eventually, the new view becomes the status quo, and ideas that were rejected as madness will appear in the popular press, often touted by the very critics who did so much to impede their acceptance.”

It is time to think outside the box, to challenge, to look for evidence, to focus on producing outcomes that really give people mobility and change their lives. Planning public transport is a multi-discplinary, transformational, “complex systems” design, continuous process.

Trevor Meadows

Trevor Meadow’s career spans more than 45 years of expertise at the front line of both developing national transport policy for disadvantaged groups in society, and on the launching of new community-based transport services customised to meet the needs of those most deprived in society. His roles have been extensive:

  • Convenor, Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland
  • Member of the Scottish Accessible Transport Alliance.
  • Team Leader, Accessible Transport, Transportation Services, Fife Council
  • Team Leader, The National Pilot Project for Transport for People With Disabilities. (Ministries of Transport, Health, Social Welfare, and Construction)  Bulgaria. Part of the EU PHARE programme.
  • Senior Research Fellow, University of Cranfield, School of Management.
  • UK Delegate to the ECMT (CEMT) Working Group for People with Mobility Handicaps.
  • Director, National Advisory Unit for Community Transport
  • Member, then Technical Observer, Disabled Person’s Transport Advisory Committee
  • Co-ordinator, ReadiBus
  • Research Officer, University of Reading. Transport Deprivation in Inter Urban Areas.
  • Raworth,K. (2017) Doughnut Economics; Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st- Century Economist. London, Random House. ISBN 9781847941374
  • Kerlinger, F.N. (1969) Foundations of Behavioural Research; Educational and Psychological Enquiry. Holt, Reinhart and Winston. SBN 03 910026 X
  • March, J.G. and Simon, H.A. (1993) Organisations, Second edition. Oxford : Blackwell Business
  • Hvinden, B. (2003) The Uncertain Convergence of Disability Policies in Western Europe. Social Policy and Administration Vol. 37, No. 6. December 2003, pp 609 -624
  • Wadhams, P. (2016) A Farewell to Ice.  Allen Lane. ISBN: 978-0-241-00941-3
  • Wasdell, D. (2015) Facing the Harsh Realities of Now. www.apologia.org
  • Lustig, R. (2013) Fat Chance, p 111. Fourth Estate. London, Harper Collins. ISBN: 978-0-00-751414-4
  • Spector, T. (2015) The Diet Myth; The Real Science Behind What We Eat. P 55 on.  London, Weidenfield and Nicholson ISBN: 978 1 780 22900 3
  • Taubes, G. (2011) Why We Get Fat. P31 on. New York, Anchor Books ISBN: 978-0-307-94943-1
  • Yudkin, J. (1972) Pure White and Deadly. How Sugar is Killing Us and What We Can Do To Stop It. London, Penguin Books.  ISBN: 978-0-241-96528-3
  • Mishan, E.J. (1967) The Costs of Economic Growth. London, Staples Press. ISBN: 0 297 82164 4
  • Mishan, E.J. (1977) The Economic Growth Debate. London, Allen and Unwin. ISBN 0 04 330280 7
  • Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J., Behrens III, W.W. (1972) The Limits to Growth. London, Pan Books. ISBN 0 330 24169 9
  • Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J., Behrens III, W.W. (1992) Beyond the Limits.  Confronting Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable Future. Post Mills, Vermont, Chelsea Green ISBN 0-930031-55-5
  • Meadows, D.H., Randers, J., Meadows, D.L., (2004) Limits to Growth. The Thirty-Year Update. White River Junction, Vermont, Chelsea Green.  ISBN 1-931498-51-2
  • Randers, J. (2012) A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. White River Junction, Vermont; Chelsea Green ISBN: 978-1-60358-467-8
  • Heinberg, R. (2003) The Party’s Over. Front Row, Sussex; Clairview Books. ISBN 978 1 9005570 003
  • Heinberg, R. (2011) The End of Growth. Gabriola Island, BC; New Society Publishers. ISBN 978-0-86571-695-7
  • Jackson, T. (2009) Prosperity Without Growth. Economics for a Finite Planet. Abingdon, Routledge. ISBN 13: 978-1-84407-894-3
  • Bassey, M. (2012) Convivial Policies for the Inevitable, Global Warming, Peak Oil, Economic Chaos. Brighton,Book Guild Publishing. ISBN 978 1 84624 806 1
  • Orlov, D. (2013) The Five Stages of Collapse.Gabriola Island, BC; New Society Publishers. ISBN 978-0-86571-736-7
  • Magnus, G. (2009) The Age of Aging. Singapore, Wiley. ISBN 978-0-470-82291-3
  • Rawles, J. (2001) Justice as Fairness. A Restatement. Cambridge, Massachusetts; Belknap Harvard. ISBN 0-674-00510-4
  • Sen, A. (2009) The Idea of Justice. London, Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-141-03785-1
  • Nussbaum, M.C. (2006) Frontiers of Justice. Disability, Nationality, Species Membership. Cambridge, Massachusetts; Belknap Havard. ISBN 13: 978-0-674-019-1
  • Wilkinson, W. and Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit Level. Why Equality is Better for Everyone. London, Penguin. ISBN 978-0-241-95429-4
  • Pert, C.B. (1997) Molecules of Emotion. London, Simon and Schuster. ISBN 13: 978-0-6710-3397-2

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