Lancaster University

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Is travel time dead time?

05/07/2004 12:46:52

Passengers in the 21st Century may be looking to get more out of their travel time than a swift journey, according to Lancaster researchers.

Modern travellers can be just as interested in whether they can plug in their laptop or access the web or find a place for 'good conversation' as in the literal time it takes to get from Lancaster to Glasgow.

With UK mobility on the rise, researchers at Lancaster University Centre For Mobilities Research and the University of West England have just embarked upon a three-year study that will see them walking the aisles of trains, buses and planes to find out how we use our time on the move.

The study - Time Travel Use in the Information Age - sets out to discover how different social groups get around the country, what they do while travelling and to challenge the presumption that travel time is simply dead time.

Research methods will include interviews and surveys with both travellers and transport providers. Those behind the project believe the results could have significant implications for transport policy and systems.

Lancaster University Professor of Sociology John Urry, Co-Director of CeMoRe, said: “We exist in a society in which life on the move is increasingly common and supported by an array of mobile information and communications technologies. In the UK people are travelling further and faster than before but very little research has been done in this area. However many transport decisions are based on the presumption that we are simply looking for the quickest journey possible. We believe this may not be the only factor at play.”

“Laptops, games consoles, palmtops and mobile phones allow people to communicate when they are on the move and increasingly enable them to create a working or an entertainment environment during a journey.”

“We want to find out to what extent travel time is being put to use and whether the ability to engage in another activity reduces the perceived ‘cost’ to the traveller. If this is the case then does this extend the amount of time people are prepared to spend travelling?”

Researchers are also keen to explore whether the ability to work on the move is driving employers expectations and contributing to a long-hours culture.

The research has been backed by a £54k Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant at Lancaster (plus further EPSRC funding at UWE). The Lancaster researcher is Laura Watts and she and John Urry would be interested in suggestions and information about related research.