Measuring the impact of unfamiliar transit travel using a university access survey

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bus, place - australasia, place - universities, ridership - behaviour, ridership - perceptions


Public transport, Wayfinding, Primacy effect, Unfamiliar trips


A number of campaigns, policy initiatives, and research studies target promoting travel behaviour change in an effort to reduce automobile dependency. However there is scant, if any, research about the actual experience of new travel behaviours and their potential importance. Yet research in psychology has shown first impressions to be integral to all attitude development due to a phenomenon referred to as the ‘primacy effect’. However the ‘primacy effect’ concept has never been explored in the context of urban transit, one of the key modes targeted for individuals to use in place of cars.

This paper explores the experience of unfamiliar travel and its potential importance by comparing first trip experiences (which in this study context refers to individuals' first time using public transport to travel to a university campus) with perceptions of overall trip experiences through a university access survey. The results show that unfamiliar travel by transit tended to be more negative experience than familiar travel. ‘Ease of navigation’ (wayfinding), ‘emotional state’, ‘ease of navigating transfer’, and ‘ease of ticketing’ were particularly negative aspects of first trips. Unfamiliar travel was found to be significantly correlated with overall ratings of transit suggesting a strong basis for the ‘primacy effect’ in public transport. Results also suggest that first trip experiences are significantly correlated with subsequent transit usage but only for ‘choice travellers’ i.e. those with access to a car and not for ‘captive’ transit users.

This is a novel research area with important implications for travel behaviour and user attitude research. Suggestions are offered for future research and practical applications for transport practitioners and organisations with an interest in reducing automobile reliance.


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


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