Understanding urban rail in-vehicle activities: An activity theory approach

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - urban, mode - rail, ridership - perceptions, planning - service improvement, infrastructure - vehicle


Public transport, Urban rail, In-vehicle activities, Activity theory, Qualitative research


Public transport in-vehicle activities are activities undertaken by passengers while en-route to their destination. Recent focus has been given to this subject, as evidence accrues to demonstrate the influence that in-vehicle activities have on the way passengers perceive and assess the service as a whole.

Still, most of research regarding public transport in-vehicle activities has been descriptive in nature—i.e., activities are identified and described, but a further consistent depiction of what defines, shapes, and restricts in-vehicle activities in the context of public transport is lacking. This gap makes it difficult to study public transport in-vehicle activities from an established perspective, resulting in scattered knowledge about activities, underlying motives, and the impact that activities can have on passengers.

This research makes uses of a novel approach to the study of urban rail in-vehicle activities using activity theory. Through the use of a qualitative approach, we put forward a model that allows for the systematic structuring of in-vehicle activities and the identification of the elements that define and influence such activities. Additionally, in this research we explore how in-vehicle activities are undertaken by passengers and how they impact their subjective perception of the journey.

Our results show that our approach is useful in gaining both a high level understanding of urban rail in-vehicle activities, as well as enabling to identify and analyse the individual factors that can impact these activities. We see this study as a step forward in shaping urban rail as a method of transport that promotes activity undertaking so as to better align with passengers' subjective and dynamic needs.


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


Transportation Research Part F Home Page: