Marketing in the bus industry: A psychological interpretation of some attitudinal and behavioural outcomes

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

planning - surveys, planning - marketing/promotion, ridership - behaviour, ridership - attitudes, mode - bus


Surveys, Psychology, Mental attitudes, Marketing, Intracity bus transportation, Human behavior, Controlled trials, Bus usage, Bus travel, Bus transit, Behaviour, Behavior, Attitudes


This paper presents a rare example of an experimental study investigating the effects of persuasive messages on real-life behaviour. The research aimed to explore the extent to which the low and declining use of bus services reflected overly negative public perceptions of buses and whether, if key misperceptions could be "corrected" by persuasive messages, people might change their attitudes towards bus travel and increase their use of bus services. Two controlled trials were conducted. Each comprised a before survey, delivery of marketing material to randomly selected respondents, and a follow-up survey to ascertain any changes in the attitudes and behaviour within the treated or control samples. The marketing material in the first trial was designed to "correct" common misperceptions of the bus services in the study area and to overcome perceived barriers to its use. Analysis suggests that the marketing material encouraged bus use among habitual bus users, people positively disposed towards bus and females but caused a significant decrease in bus use among males, previously infrequent users and people negatively disposed towards bus. Potential explanations for these findings were found in the Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen, I. (1991). The Theory of Planned Behaviour, Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211) and the Elaboration Likelihood Model (Petty, R.E., Cacioppo, J.T. (1986). The Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion. In: L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 19). San Diego: Academic Press). A second trial was conducted using marketing material designed in light of these theories. The material, which was targeted at people who did not typically travel by bus but were apparently willing to consider doing so, acknowledged that the car is probably a first choice but highlighted occasions when the bus could be more convenient. Subsequent interviews suggested that the marketing had resulted in a significant increase in bus use by recent bus users and by males. The inclusion of a free travel offer for some recipients seemed to be particularly effective for frequent travellers and people already positively disposed towards bus. These findings are explored through a psychological lens using cognitive theories relating to individual differences in information processing, attention and memory.


Transportation Research Part B Home Page: