The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis


Inclusive and Healthy Mobility: Understanding Trends in Concessionary Travel in the West Midlands

Welcome to the webpage of the ‘Inclusive and healthy mobility’ project! On this page, you will find information about the project and all outputs generated from our research.

Project background

In this project, we generate new insights into the changing mobility practices of senior residents. The project adds to the debate on inclusive and health-promoting transport systems as a key enabler of independent living in later life stages. The project was funded by the ESRC's Big Data Network Phase 3 and conducted in partnership with Transport for West Midlands (Co-I Chris Lane) and the UCL Consumer Data Research Centre (Co-I Prof Paul Longley). 

Changing practices, changing transport

There is an ongoing need to study the mobility practices of senior residents as lifestyle practices, age and ethnic characteristics in this group steadily diversify. At the same time, the transport system continues being transformed by new mobile technologies, the emergence of novel, demand-responsive and shared transport services as well as a dynamic information and communication environment propagating online services, shopping, entertainment and socialising, all of which affect the times and ways we travel.

Decline in bus patronage

Viewed against these developments, the project investigates the changing bus patronage of senior residents in the region of West Midlands (West Midlands Combined Authority - WMCA). Since 2009, the region has experienced a dramatic decline of approximately 25 per cent in bus patronage.* Understanding these trends is an urgent priority for urban transport authorities, not only for economic and operational reasons. Unmet mobility needs can also reinforce health disadvantage and social inequalities among potentially vulnerable groups, such as elderly residents.

New forms of urban data

WMCA's travel smartcards have produced a database of several hundred million records of bus boardings over nearly seven years. The data constitutes a powerful resource for research, particularly when it is linked to other datasets routinely collected by transport operators in England. Using data linkage procedures, we are developing a complex data processing framework that will permit contextual analysis of changing bus patronage with respect to regularity of daily travel, origins and destinations, travel distance and time and — by inference — delay experience, trip chaining, trip purpose and the time spent away from home using public transport. 

The project 

Our research project ‘Inclusive and healthy mobility: Understanding Trends in Concessionary Travel in the West Midlands’ is a demonstrator project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) under its Big Data Network Phase 3 programme. The purpose of this programme was to support research demonstrating the utility of new and emerging forms of data for policy. Our project partner is Transport for West Midlands (TfWM). #

The project processes millions of boardings recorded on travel smartcards in the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and link them to GPS-traces of vehicles, asset registers and timetables. All datasets are anonymised.

Using these data sources, the project has three main components: 

  1. Collecting evidence to understand the current, sharp decline in bus patronage by passengers travelling under the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) in the WMCA
  2. Producing a data linkage framework that a) allows customised, spatial and temporal research on public transport patronage over several years and b) is transferable to any system operating under the Integrated Transport Smartcard Organisation (ITSO) specification
  3. Generate publicly accessible data and visualisations, part of which is an interactive travel dashboard, supported by the UCL Bartlett Innovation Fund

The content of this page is structured according to these components.

(1) Understanding trends in concessionary travel

We analysed boarding patterns of nearly 400,000 anonymised passenger accounts registered under the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) over the period November 2010 to August 2016. You can access the results of our analysis here.

More recently we developed methods to infer boarding and alighting location with updated data covering transaction up to the end of 2020. We analysed changes in boarding patterns during the pandemic and continue analysing spatio-temporal travel patterns for concessionary passengers.



Peer-reviewed journal articles

  • Kandt, J. and Leak, A. (2019). Examining inclusive mobility through smartcard data: What shall we make of senior citizens’ declining bus patronage in the West Midlands? Journal of Transport Geography 79, online pre-print 102474, doi: 10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2019.102474
  • Kandt, J. and Batty, M. (2021). Smart cities, big data and urban policy: towards urban analytics for the long run. Cities 109, e102992, 1-10. doi: 10.1016/j.cities.2020.102992
  • Carney, F. (2021). Linking Loyalty Card Data to Public Transport Data to Explore Mobility and Social Exclusion in the Older Population. Sustainability 13(11), 6217, 1-19, doi: 10.3390/su13116217
  • Long, A., Carney, F. and Kandt, J. (2023). Who is returning to public transport for non-work trips after COVID-19? Evidence from older citizens' smart cards in the UK's second largest city region. Journal of Transport Geography 107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2023.103529

(2) Data linkage framework for ITSO fare collection systems

We developed a proof of concept to link smartcard transaction collected under ITSO specification to Automated Vehicle Locations (AVL), asset registers and timetables. The linkage permits inference of spatial and temporal journey characteristics, such as location of boarding and alighting, journey distance, duration and interchanges. In addition, we processed time tables to develop bespoke indicators of accessibility by bus at the level of Census Output Areas. Step-by-step guides to reproduce these solutions are provided here.

(3) Data downloads, interactive maps and dashboard

We provide a range of outputs that can be used to explore senior residents’ bus and tram travel in the West Midlands Combined Authority. 

The Interactive dashboard of concessionary travel in the WMCA. This work was supported by the UCL Bartlett Innovation Fund.

Data and interactive maps. We generated data and maps for key output indicators of bus patronage by ENCTS passengers. Indicators include

  • Types of ENCTS passengers 
  • ENTCS eligible residents 
  • Travel time by bus to retail centres, supermarkets, clinics, GPs, hospitals and railway stations (Census Output Area)
  • Number of ENCTS boardings per month 
  • Monthly origin-destination flows of ENCTS passengers (2014-2016)

The indicators have been prepared for the level of Census Lower Layer Output Areas (LSOA) and cover the study period 2010-2016.

Research team and contact


Jens Kandt (PI), University College London, j.kandt@ucl.ac.uk
Chris Lane (Co-I), Transport for West Midlands, c.lane@tfwm.org.uk 
Paul Longley (Co-I), University College London, p.longley@ucl.ac.uk 
Research Team
Alistair Leak (Research Associate), University College London, a.leak.11@alumni.ucl.ac.uk 
Ffion Carney (Research Assistant), University College London, ffion.carney.16@ucl.ac.uk 
Alfie Long (Research Assistant and doctoral researcher), University College London, alfred.long.17@ucl.ac.uk 

Project interns

We thank our UCL Q-Step-funded project interns for their fantastic contributions: Sakinah Yusof (2019), Timothy Bruce (2020) and Michal Iliev (2021).

Special thanks to the team at TfWM for their input, feedback and support

Daniel Pass, Phillip Evans, Robert Walker, Anne Schweickert