Public transport isn’t just about essential journeys. It can also be about fun days out, but this opportunity is too often overlooked

I don’t think the transport industry does enough to extol the virtues of a trip out from a well-being perspective

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I guess that’s how ‘Er Indoors must have fallen for me all those years ago, but it’s also a cliché that sums up one person’s perception of what constitutes a good day out by public transport. My lovely trip on Cat 9 from Warrington to Northwich is another person’s mundane experience, but I find more and more folk are realising that the way to get through these dark months is a good journey out the house on a bus or train to an interesting destination.

As I’ve often said before, a trip out on public transport is an excellent antidote to feelings of depression or just generally when there’s a need to get away and reflect on things, gazing out of the window, with the mind uncluttered. Recently, I’ve ditched taking my laptop on my travels, partly through fear of breaking the screen yet again, but also because I find that I not only enjoy looking out the window more, I also find writing down notes in a notepad, with ideas or concepts or sometimes articles, and reflecting rather than dashing straight for the keyboard, is really helpful.

Anyway, where’s all this going? Well, three concerns for me. The first is that I don’t think the transport industry does enough to extol the virtues of a trip out from a well-being perspective. Secondly, the industry seems to find it an eternal struggle to engage with destinations and attractions in a joined up way, to collectively provide inspiration to get out the house. And, lastly, the journey itself often lacks innovation and colour.

It’s as though operators are trying to emulate a doctor’s waiting room or church hall, by belligerently trying to do as little as possible to brighten up the experience

It’s as though operators are trying to emulate a doctor’s waiting room or church hall, by belligerently trying to do as little as possible to brighten up the experience. Too many are providing gloomy, moribund buses and trains for downbeat customers going out to do miserable things, like work, school, medical appointments or a trip to the cemetery.

The transport industry is very quick, in a self-promoting way, to spout to each other about the wellbeing of its own workers, dreaming up stuff like ‘Mental Health Mondays’, ‘Well-being Wednesdays’, online yoga classes, counselling and being kind to colleagues, but, apart from the odd poster encouraging customers to talk to each other, it actually doesn’t give two hoots about the people that pay these folk’s wages. I can’t recall the last time I saw an advertising campaign encouraging folk to travel by public transport as a cure for loneliness or to broaden horizons, get fresh air, blow away the cobwebs, break away from staring at four walls or stuck day and night on Teams Calls in one room. It’s as though it is incapable or unwilling to research and grapple with psychological complexity and produce a campaign that might be multi-faceted, reflective and deeply nuanced.

As a wise old sage reminded me only last week, if you wake up one morning and say ‘where shall we have a great day out today?’, your first inclination isn’t to check a transport company’s website for inspiration. Well, that’s largely correct, but it is, to an extent, because, with a few exceptions, you’ll struggle to find much inspiration on an operator’s website.

It’s unsurprising, as the responsibility of getting people to visit somewhere, surely rests with the destination provider or tourist authority – it’s their number one focus, after all, to get people to visit! However, it doesn’t, of course, have to be this way. If we created the world again, with that famous blank sheet of paper, might we not be totally in-sync with those purveyors of days out experiences and holidays? Public transport is reliant on them, in much the same way, as they are on us. If people have no reason to travel, then they won’t – unless of course, the reason is the fun journey itself and the view from the window, of which there are many routes where that is the case.

It doesn’t feel right that currently the websites of most attractions and destinations, half-heartedly at most reference ‘how to find us’ and mention lazily the bus or train, without giving this reference more than a sentence

It doesn’t feel right that currently the websites of most attractions and destinations, half-heartedly at most reference ‘how to find us’ and mention lazily the bus or train, without giving this reference more than a sentence. If you’re lucky, there will be a link to the bus company website, but it almost feels they are embarrassed to mention public transport – ‘getting here by car’ always features first. There’s never a compelling narrative about how easy it is to get to the destination by bus or train and the destination providers never post about the ease of using public transport on their own social media. But, then again, how often do transport operators promote the attractions? Even those who do deign it upon themselves to have a ‘Days Out’ page on their websites, feature a painfully minimalist list of events and places to visit, which is always written in the most uninspiring language. At best, they might retweet a post from an attraction.

Transport operators and places that folk might want to travel have a habit of staring suspiciously at each other, like newly acquainted cats – tails up, all defensive. Yet they fail to realise that by actually collaborating, they can be of huge mutual assistance. There are admittedly, some organisations who are crying out for a solution, but they’ll struggle, in the complicated world of public transport, to fathom out who to contact or what solution might work for both parties.

The National Trust is a great example of an organisation really up for collaboration with transport providers on a nationwide scale. I had a great call with them a fortnight ago, hearing the challenges they have around too many cars polluting the lovely country access roads and green fields on their sites being turned into overflow car parks or their sites not being able to properly reach out to the full demographic spectrum because unless you have a car and are willing and can afford to travel. The links from the nearest conurbations by bus and rail are poor or non-existent.


At Great Scenic Journeys, which I founded, we’ve created a team of transport ambassadors to help, on behalf of operators, go into tourist attractions and build relationships and broker reciprocal marketing deals and customer benefits. We’re also developing a QR code for display on buses and trains that regales customers with details of the scenery on the journey and fascinating facts about the route, as well as showcases attractions, supported by dynamic timetabling illustrating places to visit along the route map. The QR code will also link to a real time customer satisfaction survey, the results of which we’ll collate and feed back to the transport provider. We’re also working with a revolutionary company called You. Smart. Thing. which is a tech business that provides digital travel plans for events and attractions that helps them showcase public transport operators as the most carbon-efficient means of reaching their attraction.

The QR code initiative was dreamt up first and foremost as a way of creating a bit of colour and interest to go with the view from the window, whilst also bring to life some of the hidden gem destinations on a route that might not be necessarily considered as stunningly scenic. We felt there was a need because it’s all very well going on a bus and grumbling that there’s no internal branding or on-board experience, but many companies can’t afford this, whereas what we’re providing is a subtle way of creating a bit of interest and ambience in the absence of anything
major from a brand perspective. We’re determined to put our codes in those often empty A4 frames behind the driver and on windows and we’ll put a version in attractions to promote the local bus route.

Of course, one person’s fascinating journey is another’s bore-fest. We did some vox pop surveys in late summer of groups of customers at various places across the country on routes that went through picturesque villages and to market towns. These are routes that the folk we spoke to said were ‘pleasant’ and ‘enjoyable’ but not necessarily something they’d tell their friends as being the reason to make a trip out. However, 38% of those we consulted remarked that the collection of a pretty view from the window and some interesting places to visit at the end of the journey were the reasons they made the trip. The ‘interest’ was what might be defined as ‘simple pleasures’ – a pint in Wetherspoons whilst reading a newspaper, a visit to a craft fair, museum or a browse in some independent shops. The trips were also those that wouldn’t be characterised as ‘stand-out highlights’ of the year or even month but were viewed as ‘part and parcel of the pleasures of everyday life’ – again, ‘simple pleasures’.

Walking was also cited as an activity that was seen as compatible with a bus journey. I’m not just talking the big, stellar walks that lead to hikers aplenty getting on the Exmoor Coaster or Stagecoach Bluebird bus to Braemar, but the manageable one hour or less nature trails, off the Peak District or Bronte countryside from Skipton that give a glimpse of the wild terrain beyond for the less adventurous. There’s also an increasing interest, post Covid, for even shorter walks – ‘strolls’ that might consist of just a mile or two circular trip round the village or market town, with the prize of a pint at the local pub or cream tea at the end. That’s why my favourite app by some distance is from the fabulous, leading walk provider Go Jauntly, which has provided a curated walk for almost all the walks on our Great Scenic Journeys collection. I’ll be chatting with the Go Jauntly founder in a future issue as I genuinely believe that by better combining public transport with walking we will unleash an entirely new stream of demand for the sector. This kind of stuff is life-changing for people and the industry.

What does all of the above tell us? Well it reveals, albeit only as a snapshot, the invaluable role that a bus journey, in particular, has on ‘facilitating lives’ in terms of the important pleasures that actually make getting up in the morning palatable and worthwhile.

The potential is stupendously exciting if we change the mindset and as an industry start trying to be joined at the hip with attractions and destinations

Our snapshot surveys also illustrate the fairly large number of those who are partaking in the journey because it is a mix of ‘pleasurable’ and also goes to an interesting destination. Those we spoke to would not necessarily have made the trip if only one of the two factors existed – e.g. if the trip is enjoyable but the destination isn’t worthwhile, then they wouldn’t travel, but by the same token, if the journey wasn’t much fun, then, so too, they would stay at home, even if the end attraction was decent. It goes to show just how important a mix of ‘good journey and good destination’ is and the role in making sure both are promoted and in the case of the former, the customer experience is up to scratch.

Some transport operators give a glimpse of getting it and there are examples of Christmas Markets being well promoted across the country. If the promotion of ‘reasons to travel’ could be for life and not just for Christmas, then we’d be in a much stronger position. The potential is stupendously exciting if we change the mindset and as an industry start trying to be joined at the hip with attractions and destinations – not just the big and obvious ones, but those hidden gems – and realise we have a shared opportunity and responsibility in unlocking social mobility.

There are swathes of bus and rail routes that are not just interesting journeys but also serve places where there are wonderful experiences to be enjoyed – the kind of fun that is the perfect therapy and cure for those seasonal blues – whatever time of year. However, a one-dimensional approach won’t suffice – it’s not as easy as just contacting an attraction. The challenge is as much psychological and raising awareness of the mental health and physical benefits of a day out by public transport.

So, next time you are telling a colleague about ‘Well-Being Wednesday’, please don’t be discouraged, but in the first instance, maybe give some advice to your current and future customers first?

This story appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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