9 August 2019
Given the decline in the Guangzhou BRT operational performance, with operational speeds now slower than all systems other than Urumqi, when Far East Mobility carried out an updated passenger perception survey in July 2019 we expected to find that huge initial improvements in passenger perceptions of the BRT system in the few years after the system opened would have been reversed in more recent years. We were suprised to find, on the contrary, that perceptions have remained stable, with the large improvements achieved when the system opened in 2010 retained and in some cases even improved upon since the most recent surveys carried out five years ago.
Passenger perceptions also improved in the non-BRT locations, though perceptions remained significantly more positive in the BRT compared to the non-BRT locations.
Passenger perceptions in the BRT corridor are still significantly more positive than perceptions of passengers at regular bus stops outside the BRT corridor, though the gap has narrowed over the last five years as Guangzhou's BRT system has stagnated.
Interviews of 409 BRT passengers were carried out in high demand BRT stations in Zhongshan Avenue (the BRT corridor) during the morning and evening peak, and of 415 bus passengers at bus stops along Jichang Avenue, a major road in the west of the city without BRT routes selected as a control corridor so that impacts of the BRT system could be isolated from citywide trends. The July 2019 interview locations, times and questions were designed to be the same as in previous rounds of the impact analysis carried out between 2007 and 2014.
Asked to rate the bus service, more than three-quarters of peak hour BRT passengers rated the service either 'good' or 'very good' while only 3% of passengers rated it 'bad' or 'very bad'. These results are virtually unchanged from the highly positive results achieved in 2013 and 2014. In the non-BRT corridor, positive perceptions (those rating the service either 'good' or 'very good') had increased markedly, from 52% in December 2013 to 65% in July 2019, though negative perceptions also increased, from 3% to 11%.
Guangzhou's BRT was awarded the Gold Standard BRT certification in 2013 but this has subsequently been downgraded to Silver due to 12 point deductions mainly for overcrowding and incursion of mixed traffic into BRT lanes. BRT speeds have significantly declined, especially in peak hours (when the passenger perception surveys were carried out), with additional delays caused by traffic signal configuration at key city centre intersections.
In this situation it was expected that perceptions of bus reliability would have deteriorated, but on the contrary perceptions of reliability have actually significantly improved. In 2014 62% of BRT passengers either agreed or strongly agreed that 'bus service is reliable', with 14% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing. In July 2019 fully 80% of peak hour BRT passengers agreed or strongly agreed that 'bus service is reliable', an increase of 18% from 2014. And only 2% had a negative view of reliability, a decline of 12% from 2014.
Perceptions of bus reliability have increased even more in the non-BRT corridor, from 28% in 2013 to 68% in 2019, with negative perceptions declining from 26% to 8%. This suggests that the improved perceptions of reliability in the BRT corridor can be explained by citywide large improvements in passenger perceptions, with a closing gap between the BRT and non-BRT perceptions. Whereas in 2013 there was a very large gap between positive perceptions of reliability in the BRT corridor compared to the non-BRT location (63% to 28%), by 2019 the gap had narrowed to 80% compared to 68%.
Passenger perceptions of security in BRT station (in the BRT corridor) and at bus stops (in the non-BRT location) remained constant in the BRT corridor, with 80% of passengers rating it 'good' or 'very good'. Outside the BRT corridor, perceptions of security improved significantly, from 41% in 2013 to 61% in 2019, though are still significantly lower than in BRT stations (80%). Meanwhile only 3% of BRT passengers had a negative view of station security, compared to 11% at regular bus stops outside the corridor.
Asked how they rate the BRT stations (in the BRT corridor) and bus stops (in the non-BRT location), passenger perceptions of BRT stations were almost unchanged from 5 years earlier, with a 77% positive and only 2% negative rating. Perceptions of bus stops have improved significantly over the same period, with 47% in 2013 and 63% in 2019 considering the bus stops to be 'good' or 'very good'. However, negative perceptions of bus stops has also increased, from 4% to 10%. The net positive rating of BRT stations compared to bus stops, 75% compared to 53%, is still significantly higher but the gap is closing. This result is somewhat suprising given that only modest bus stop improvements have been made over this period, but may be explained by recent walkway re-paving in the non-BRT corridor locations.
Passenger perceptions of conditions inside the buses have greatly improved both in the BRT and non-BRT locations. Net positive perceptions in the BRT corridor have increased from 61% in 2013 to 76% in July 2019, and from 1% to 57% for non-BRT passengers over the same time period. As in other areas, perceptions of conditions inside the buses remain around 10%-15% more positive in the BRT corridor, though with a greatly reduced gap between BRT and non-BRT services.
While in 2013 71% of BRT station passengers and only 49% of bus stop passengers had a positive perception of passenger information at stations/stops, by 2019 the positive perceived difference between BRT station information and regular bus stop information had largely disappeared, with a positive perception of 69% for BRT and 66% for bus stops. However, only 4% of BRT station passengers had a negative perception of BRT station information compared to 11% at bus stops.
Perceptions of the environment are largely unchanged between 2013 and 2019 in both the BRT and non-BRT locations, with the BRT corridor enjoying a 70% net positive approval and the non-BRT locations a 52% positive in 2019. 73% of BRT passengers either agree or strongly agree that 'The environment is good along the BRT corridor', with only 3% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing. In the non-BRT location 60% have a positive impression and 8% a negative impression.
Perceptions of civic pride have increased in both the BRT and non-BRT locations, with 81% of BRT passengers and 72% of non-BRT bus passengers feeling proud of Guangzhou. Only 2% of BRT passengers disagreed that they were proud of Guangzhou, compared to 8% of the non-BRT passengers.
Finally, a key goal of a transit system is to achieve the highest 'very good' or 'strongly agree' ratings. The BRT corridor rates 10%-15% above the non-BRT location in this measure, though there is still ample room for improvement. Five ratings levels were provided: (i) very good / strongyly agree; (ii) good / agree; (iii) neutral; (iv) disagree / bad; (v) strongly disagree / very bad.
In conclusion, the benefits of BRT in terms of improved passenger perceptions have proven suprisingly robust over a long period, with positive BRT passenger perceptions maintained and even improved despite deteriorations in bus speeds associated with mixed traffic being frequently allowed into BRT lanes and signal delays at key city centre intersections. Passenger perceptions in the BRT corridor are still significantly more positive than perceptions of passengers at regular bus stops outside the BRT corridor, though the gap has narrowed over the last five years as Guangzhou's BRT system has stagnated.
Postscript: Should cars be allowed into BRT / bus lanes?
Passengers in BRT stations and (in the non-BRT location) at bus stops were asked about cars being allowed to enter bus lanes. Around 20% of both BRT and bus passengers either agreed or strongly agreed that 'cars should be allowed to enter the bus lane'. However, 60% of BRT passengers and 38% of bus passengers disagreed or strongly disagreed with allowing cars into bus lanes.