Research Summary

Greek students’ beliefs about public transport: Incentives and disincentives for environmentally friendly behavior

Greek students’ perceptions of public transportation show differences between Years and genders

Applied Environmental Education & Communication
2019

Carbon dioxide from vehicle emissions is among the most significant contributors to greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Using public transportation is one way for individuals to decrease carbon emissions and is generally perceived as an environmentally friendly action. Public perception can act as an incentive or disincentive for the use of public transport, though some perceptions may be more instrumental than others. This study examined Greek students’ perceptions of public transportation, both positive and negative, and identified the characteristics that are most influential over one’s use of public transportation.

This study took place in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. A total of 283 secondary students in Years 10 and 11 and 630 university students in Years 1 and 4 participated in the study; they were recruited from their routine classes to join. Students from these years were selected because at these ages they begin making more independent choices about their transportation. Each participant completed a questionnaire consisting of 16 questions to assess their views of whether characteristics of public transportation are true, and 8 questions assessing the importance they assigned to these characteristics. The first part of the questionnaire used a 5-point response scale ranging from “I strongly agree” to “I strongly disagree” while the second part used a 4-point response scale from “Very important” to “Not at all important.” Using statistical analyses, the researchers identified beneficial characteristics of public transportation; reported disadvantages; and compared beliefs of females and males, and university and secondary students.

The majority of secondary and university students reported using public transportation at least three times per week. In terms of beneficial characteristics, most participants believed that eco-centric characteristics were true, such as using public transportation helps reduce global warming, emits fewer fumes than private cars, and is cheaper than a personal vehicle. However, participants identified several disadvantages to using public transportation: lack of reliability and frequency, longer trip times, crowds, and concerns about safety when walking to catch public transportation. The researchers noted that females were more likely to accept the positive characteristics of public transportation, which is consistent with other studies showing females to be more environmentally sympathetic than males. They also found that secondary students believed that public transportation is safer to use than a private vehicle and thought not needing a parking space was an advantage. University students believed that public transportation was cheaper for individuals to travel. More secondary students were concerned with safety issues when walking to public transportation and the lack of reliability, while more university students believed public transportation is for the less fortunate and found it embarrassing to use.

Participants identified safety, comfort, traveling when desired, short journey times, and cheaper travel as the most important characteristics of public transportation. Females viewed safety, the ability to take personal belongings on transportation, and limiting emissions as more important than males did. Also, university students viewed short journey times, the lower cost, and the ability to travel at preferred times as more important than secondary students did. Overall, the researchers noted that though reduced carbon emissions were identified as a positive characteristic of public transportation, this was not as much of a priority for participants as the immediate, personal costs or benefits of taking public transportation. These findings were consistent with results from other studies, though the researchers did connect some of the results to the public transportation conditions in Thessaloniki. Public transport in the region is limited, leading to more private vehicles on the road which causes traffic, few parking options, and further delays the few public transportation options available. This context may contribute to the views of some participants, particularly university students who are less likely to have a private vehicle at their disposal.

This study had some limitations. The participants were only secondary and university students living in Thessaloniki where public transportation options are limited. Researchers noted that the metro in Thessaloniki was under construction at the time of the study, which may have influenced results. Students living in a city with more efficient public transportation may have different opinions. Also, the questionnaire only evaluated 16 characteristics of public transportation, which may have excluded other potentially influential characteristics.

Researchers recommend incorporating environmental education about personal transport into climate change topics to encourage students to be more aware of the impacts of transportation and its contributions to carbon emissions. They recommend focusing on the positive characteristics of public transportation to encourage use or outlining the incentives and disincentives to allow students to formulate their own opinions.

The Bottom Line

Perceptions of public transportation systems can influence whether individuals use public transport over a personal vehicle. This study examined Greek students’ perceptions and identified the characteristics that are most influential over one’s use of public transportation. A total of 283 upper secondary students and 630 university students completed a questionnaire to assess their views of public transportation. Researchers found that most participants believed that eco-centric characteristics, such as using public transportation, helps reduce global warming, but identified concerns about safety when walking to catch public transportation, a lack of reliability and frequency, and longer trip times. Differences were also observed between genders and age groups. Participants identified safety, comfort, and time convenience as the some of the most important characteristics of public transportation, notably excluding eco-centric options from the top priorities. Researchers recommend incorporating environmental education about personal transport into climate change topics to encourage students to be more aware of the environmental impacts of transportation.