Insights from focus groups

Commuters seem to choose either walking or biking for their daily commuting if the travelling distance is at most 3 – 4 kilometres. However, in Finland, half of the trips longer than 2 kilometres are already made by car. If the commuting distance was longer than 3 – 4 km, commuters in the focus groups used public transport or private car. Typically, private car users told that they save significantly time, half an hour or more, when using their own car instead of public transport. Focus group participants’ children also saved time when the parents either took them to school or picked them up by car. If families had not used cars in these situations, their children would not have had enough time to come home, eat something, do the homework and go to their leisure activities. Also in the outskirts of the city, the headway between the buses was considered too long by the participants.

The participants noticed that there are significant annual fixed costs related to owning a car, but the variable costs of driving additional kilometres are low. Once the car is bought, it is also used for those trips that could be made by other transport modes. Using a private car in Finland is in some cases even less expensive than public transport, if someone needs to buy two or more different tickets from local public transport operators. The participants also raised different work-related topics that required the use of a private car and a common reason for commuting with a car was that participants needed it in their work – for example, to access different external meetings and sites. A private car was also mentioned to be sometimes the only mode of commuting allowing work-related phone discussions or joining in teleconferences. Some participants said they like driving a car and would therefore anyway prefer it as a way of commuting.

Another finding from the focus groups was that commuters having children often combined other activities with their commuting. The two most common tasks were bringing kids to a kindergarten or to a school and doing groceries. The third most common combined activity was sports. Without these ‘side-tracks’ some of these participants would have used public transport as their main mode of transport.
When discussing their daily commuting and the choice of transport mode, it became clear that choosing the place of living and the transport mode used in commuting are related to each other. Some families rather live outside the city area in a larger house and use cars for daily commuting and other activities. There are families who live in smaller apartments closer to the city centre and use public transport for daily commuting. Both of these commuter groups justified their choices with their values: some prefer more space and freedom while others want to live closer to the services and support green values.

The satisfaction with the chosen mode of transport was on average good. For longer distances, a train was considered a good alternative as the time spent on trains was often used either for working or used as spare time. The most significant challenge for long-distance commuters in the growth corridors was the last mile problem and matching the timetables of different transport modes. The latter is a challenge partly because train and bus stations are often not in the same location as many of the buses leave the passengers to the bus stops of the highway instead of driving to the city centre. Therefore, travelling between two cities in these corridors with public transport is difficult unless at least another end of the trip is close to the bus stop or railway station.

When thinking about future commuting possibilities and MaaS, participants of the focus groups mostly had very limited viewpoints on how their mobility patterns would change. Most of the expressed ideas were related to the improvement of some present modes of transport, for example, having smaller headways in public transport. Also, many of the ideas presented were already implemented by some public transport authorities.

The most commonly expressed need was to have a mobile application that would integrate all the different modes of transport, show different vehicles in real time and allow buying a ticket for the whole trip. In addition, the possibility for re-routing in case of delays was high in the list. Typical suggestions were:

  • Real-time information on the location of public transport vehicles (buses, trams, trains etc.). The information when next buses are expected to arrive could be shown in the bus stops.
  • Enhanced travel chain optimiser application that would dynamically suggest alternative travel chains, if the original one is not feasible anymore, e.g., due to delays. The same application could also announce when it is time to leave the vehicle.
  • A service that would tell different travel chain alternatives between the destination and the current location based on price, travel time, CO2 emissions etc. In addition, the ability to buy the ticket for the whole travel chain from a mobile application would ease the use of public transport.

Focus group commuters hoped that buses would stay on schedule and that the headways were shorter. Railway commuters suggested 1) silent cars for sleeping or working purposes, 2) better internet connections and charging possibilities for mobile devices, 3) possibility to have a cup of coffee and a snack in trains and stations (at least a vending machine) and 4) having a gym or exercise bikes in the train. Commuters using bicycles were mostly satisfied with the present situation. They recommended 1) better cycling opportunities and roads, 2) more and better bicycle parking facilities next to the public transport stations, 3) possibility to take a bicycle into the train for a reasonable fee and 4) using different gritting sand in the winter to lower the risks of tire punctures.

A new national level ticket pricing system in Finland was also considered a necessity. The price should be based on the distance travelled instead of the somewhat artificial travel zones currently used (or there should be smaller zones). The present monthly ticket pricing should be changed so that those commuting only three times a week would also get discounted prices. This would encourage commuters to use public transport instead of a private car.

Commuters of the focus groups were not eager about ride sharing. Some argued that they would feel uncomfortable in a car with a stranger and that their schedule would be more dependent on others’ travelling times. Ride-sharing was seen as a viable alternative only if there are many people offering rides via some applications. On the other hand, different car sharing models (floating or fixed station based, peer-to-peer systems or shared company cars) were seen as viable options, if the prices are competitive.

Finally, there is a distinct lack of MaaS-related services, especially for the last mile transport needs. To improve the present situation, the participants using buses for longer distances suggested a service, continuous shuttle buses to the city centre, or some other alternative. Thus even in the cities, new mobility solutions are needed outside the rush hour, especially in the outskirts.

Next: Comparing the two research methods

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