UCL News


Public transport in England failing those with mental health issues

17 June 2019

Transport operators need to do more to support people with mental health problems to use their services, according to a new survey conducted by UCL.

Public transport

The attitudes and behaviour of fellow travellers, worrying about getting lost and having to speak to strangers are some of the biggest concerns facing adults in Britain with a mental illness such as anxiety, depression or agoraphobia.

The data suggested that the situation seemed to be worse in rural areas, along with the quality of transport provision.

Other worries include the availability of suitable public toilets, particularly for older travellers, with 40% of those surveyed reporting this as a key issue, and concern about what to do if the bus is diverted or the train breaks down.

The results of the survey, carried out by Emeritus Professor Roger Mackett (UCL Transport Studies) will be launched on Monday 17th June at an event hosted at UCL.

Professor Mackett said: “This report presents sound evidence about the difficulties that people with mental health conditions face whenever they travel. Many of the issues could be addressed by improving the understanding of the public, transport staff and employers about mental health and by involving people with mental health conditions in the design of wayfinding systems on paper and websites and in the design of buses and trains”.

Over a third of those surveyed reported frequently being unable to leave home because of their mental health. Over half do not buy advance rail tickets because of not knowing how they’ll feel on the day of travel, and so miss out on cheaper fares.

Very few of the respondents possess support instruments such as Disabled Persons Railcards, travel assistance cards, concessionary bus passes or ‘Please offer me a seat’ badges, although many reported that these would encourage them to travel more.

The full report includes recommendations to make travelling easier for the quarter (26%) of all adults in England who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, plus the further 18% who have experienced mental illness without being diagnosed.

These include designating ‘quiet routes’ in urban areas, being able to contact the train conductor by mobile phone when assistance is required, easier access to Disabled Persons Railcards and other concessions, more ‘safe places’ where people can talk to a trained member of staff, cards asking taxi drivers not to chat and more options for public transport routes on mobile phone wayfinding apps such as avoiding tunnels.

The survey was carried out online through a link to a questionnaire. This was distributed by 18 organisations including TfL, Sustrans, Transport Scotland, SANE, Anxiety UK and the Mental Health Action Group. There were 385 useable anonymous responses from people indicating that they have a mental health condition.

Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, said: “Anxiety UK welcomes this report which highlights a comprehensive range of issues that those experiencing mental health problems face when travelling by public transport.  It is our aspiration that transport operators adopt the recommendations made and in doing so, reduce the challenges that those with mental health issues currently face.”

Dr Andy Cope, Director of Insight at Sustrans, said: "This report is a startling revelation of the challenges that the transport system presents to the huge part of society that has mental health conditions. The benefits of being able to get out and about are well known, but so many people are unable to easily get around, because the transport system doesn’t meet their needs. Walking and cycling can be important in helping to address some mental health conditions by supporting health and wellbeing, growing confidence, and helping people to feel connected. Therefore a priority should be given to projects that make it easier for people to travel locally by foot and by cycle, including dedicated cycle paths, quitter routes, and better wayfinding.”

The report has been reviewed by Anxiety UK, Sustrans, Bus Users UK and Government departments.



Media contact

Kate Corry

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 6995

Email: k.corry [at] ucl.ac.uk