Exploring transport perceptions across urban areas using free associations

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bike, mode - bus, mode - car, mode - pedestrian, mode - rail, place - europe, place - urban, planning - methods, planning - surveys, ridership - perceptions, ridership - mode choice


Sustainable transport planning, Perceptions, Mode choice, Free associations, Affective image analysis


In order to transform urban transport systems to get a potentially healthier and happier travelling public, it is important to understand how people perceive different urban travel modes, since this can affect their travel satisfaction, health and well-being. These perceptions were explored for five transport modes (walking, cycling, car driving, using bus and using train), in four areas in Birmingham, UK. The areas were chosen to reflect differing levels of deprivation and public transport provision. Data were collected using a postal questionnaire, which included a ‘free associations’ methodology. Respondents had to write down the first three associations that come to mind when thinking about each of the five modes, and subsequently rated how positive or negative each association felt to them. Perceptions of all modes except car driving differed significantly across the four neighbourhoods. The level of deprivation seemed to play a particularly distinctive role, as did the availability of public (rail) transport. There were strong relationships between the perceptions of a transport mode and its use, and sometimes also the use of other modes. Exploring perception using a free associations methodology provides insights into the strengths and weaknesses of transport modes as perceived by citizens from different backgrounds, as well as their predisposition to change modes.


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


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