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Addressing passenger anxiety

By: Dr Yung-Hsiang Cheng, Assistant Professor of Transportation and Communication Science, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan • Issue: Enhance Passenger ExperienceCategory:

  • Crowded stations, delays, and locating and getting to the correct platform are the primary causes of passenger anxiety
  • Increasing train frequency, providing accurate signage and appropriate climate control and entertainment systems can all help to reduce anxiety
  • Reducing anxiety will make passengers more receptive to using the train and more likely to leave the car at home

Despite possessing strong and cheap public transport links through extensive bus and rail networks, cars and motorcycle remain the most popular mode of transport in Taiwan. The public, it seems, would rather battle through the congested streets in their own vehicles than use public transport.

Attempting to understand why this is the case is the subject of research by Dr Yung-Hsiang Cheng, an associate professor in the Department of Transportation and Communication Science at Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University. In his work Cheng considers the impact that anxiety has on passengers’ transport choices and ultimately concludes that in the case of Taiwan the stress and strain associated with train travel is enough to make the majority of the public choose alternative means of transport.

Crowded stations, delays to service and the time taken to identify and get to the right platform at the right time are all factors that are contributing to increases in passenger anxiety and according to Cheng are putting people off using the train.

“We aimed to analyse every stage of the journey – from when passengers enter the station to when they reach their final destination – and what factors are affecting passenger anxiety levels,” Cheng says. “To achieve this we applied the Rasch psychological model to analyse and measure anxiety at different stages of a journey which has helped to identify the main reasons for resistance to using public transport and also help to suggest ways in which operators can make improvements to optimise passenger environment and also the travel experience.”

Inadequate information equals increased anxiety

The findings are based on the results from a survey conducted among 412 passengers, 52% of whom were male and 48% female, with an average age of 25 years. These passengers used the train on average 3.72 times per month and were asked questions relating to passenger environment such as seat availability, passenger information, the gap between the train and the platform and train delay. The results subsequently identified crowding as the greatest form of anxiety experienced during train travel followed by delays to journeys.

In crowded situations Cheng reports that passengers are likely to become more anxious because they are uncertain of their surroundings and can perceive a crowded environment as being a threat to their health and wellbeing. Delays to journeys cause anxiety because of the time spent at stations and onboard trains which leads to uncertainty of making connections, a factor that is increased when there is inadequate information from passenger information displays and announcements.

The survey also ranked the accessibility of platforms at stations, the availability of platform location information and the ease of transfer between different trains as the other main causes of passenger anxiety. However, Cheng says that levels of anxiety experienced can vary.

“We have found that there are significant differences between the levels of anxiety experienced by different types of passengers, particularly between long distance and commuters.” Cheng says. “Commuters, because they ride the train almost every day to get to work and are used to the travel conditions are inevitably going to have less anxiety than long distance passengers who are using the train for leisure purposes.”

Another perceptive difference was the distance between the train and the platform edge. Cheng says that the various types of rolling stock used on the Taiwanese network mean that passengers are often required to step up onto some trains or traverse a large gap between the platform and the coach. Those familiar with train travel might become more used to this, but for infrequent travellers it causes concern.

Recommended solutions

Among the solutions that Cheng recommends is that the height of passenger coach doors on any trains procured in the future matches the height of the platform. He also points out that increasing train frequency will help alleviate anxiety associated with crowding and delays by offering passengers more options.

“Increasing train frequency by providing more system capacity is a clear solution to these problems,” Cheng says. “Obviously the cost of adding more trains is the responsibility of the railway but more trains do equate to a better service so if you want to reduce passenger anxiety you will have to pay a lot more money.”

While these are considered the primary solutions to alleviating the anxiety experienced by Taiwan’s railway passengers, Cheng says that railway operators can also improve passenger experience by introducing a series of measures that he feels are relevant to providing effective railway services all over the world.

Improving accessibility to railway stations by allocating more space for car parks can increase the attractiveness of the train as a single element of a multi-modal journey. Another extremely important consideration is the ability to provide accurate, clear and regularly updated information on digital signage, passenger information systems (PIS), all visual displays and public address system in the station, and on board trains. By publicising platform location and reasons for delays and subsequent alterations to journeys and connections passenger anxiety can be reduced.

Training staff to be responsive to passenger’s concerns is also an important consideration.

“How they respond to certain situations can go a long way to alleviating concern,” Cheng says. “By acting in a calm and polite manner and providing clear and coherent information that addresses passenger enquiries, anxiety can be reduced.”

Inevitably train comfort is a major contributor to the anxiety levels experienced by passengers during journeys. The ability to control the temperature of the train through air conditioning and heating systems is therefore crucial, particularly during instances of overcrowding.

Different needs

As for entertainment systems on board trains, Cheng says these can help to improve the passenger environment and make train travel a more pleasant experience, but the benefits again vary depending on the type of journey. Long distance passengers can have very different needs to passengers who spend just a few minutes on a train.

“We need to understand the characteristics of certain passengers to know what kind of entertainment to provide,” he says. “I can see services such as WiFi being very useful to business passengers who can keep up with work on the move. But entertainment can suit other passengers as well. I was recently on a train in Japan which had passenger information onboard trains as well as advertising and programming. It seemed to distract the attention of passengers and could be a solution to reduce anxiety during delays.”

I was recently on a train in Japan which had passenger information onboard trains as well as advertising and programming. It seemed to distract the attention of passengers and could be a solution to reduce anxiety during delays.

While crowding and delays are likely to remain synonymous with rail travel, particularly during peak times, it is clear steps can be taken to reduce their impact on passengers’ journey experience. As Cheng’s research indicates efforts to alleviate anxiety at every possible stage of the journey should be a major consideration for railway operators. By addressing these concerns he indicates that the appeal of train travel will only improve meaning that in Taiwan and elsewhere across the world leaving the car at home will become a much easier choice to make.

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