Bus or Rail: An Approach to Explain the Psychological Rail Factor

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - europe, mode - bus, mode - rail, ridership - mode choice, ridership - perceptions, mode - tram/light rail


rail, bus, tram, psychological rail factor


Many public transport studies have found that potential passengers consider rail-based public transport to be superior to bus systems. Why is this? Two studies have been completed in Germany and Switzerland in search of explanations for this so-called psychological rail factor. In this article, these two studies are presented and discussed to introduce the schemata approach and to help identify differences of attributions towards rail- and bus-based public transport. The research found a psychological rail factor (i.e., a preference for using rail assuming equal service conditions) of 63 percent for regional train and 75 percent for trams compared to bus services. The rail factor is highly loaded with emotional and social attributions. They account for 20–50 percent of the share in the different schemata for bus, rail, and tram.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by NCTR, copyright remains with them.