FEATURE12 January 2015

Speeding on a Sunday morning and other interesting facts

Features Travel

Measuring the out-of-home audience provides insight into how people travel around the UK, with some unexpected findings among the more predictable says Route’s Holly Stead.


At Route we measure outdoor advertising audiences, commissioning, marshaling and verifying, as we promote the 34,000 base audience survey to the advertising industry.

The survey has some fascinating by-products. Take, for example, the average speed at which we travel. Seems that Guy Martin and Lewis Hamilton are actually atypical for their age group: it’s the 50-55 year olds that travel the fastest.

And how do we do this? Route has collected GPS data from its respondents: a total of 22 billion data points. From our survey we can see how fast people walk or drive, on average; how likely they are to make repeat visits to a supermarket or shopping centre; or how frequently they travel by train.

We can see which pathways are the least popular, and conversely we can isolate the ‘rat-runs’ which might introduce anomalies into traffic patterns. Of course, most of what we find within the Route data is not surprising, although it does give us far more confidence in certain ideas than we might have had before. It is a familiar story of behaviour – a well-worn path through life.

Life’s journey

We usually learn to drive when we’re 17. So, until this point, most of us are restricted to public transport ( 15- to 24-year-olds are the biggest users of trains to get around, going to the shops or to and from university six times a year). This slows us down. Teenagers are the most likely to spend time in shopping centres, and stay for an average of 139 minutes when they’re there.

As we get into our twenties and thirties, and we’ve acquired a car, we speed up. Many of us will be in full-time work, and using lots of different transport. This is when we’re most flexible about our travel – using taxis, buses, the whole shebang.

If we fall into the AB category of the social grade scale, we will do the most travelling. And, given that 30% more women work part-time (according to ONS), men are unsurprisingly the most mobile overall, covering more distance in total ( 287.6km in a week), and walking further ( 16.5km each week).

So what? Well, it’s when you look at the finer detail that you are reminded why working in research is so fascinating. Those nifty GPS meters are on all the time. Whenever respondents leave the house, they collect data. So we have a complete picture of patterns for the whole of the week, and the peaks and troughs may surprise you.

For example, the fastest time of the week? It’s not on Friday, when we’re dashing from work to the pub or leaving for a weekend break. It’s also not on a Saturday when we’re fighting our way to the shops before others. It’s actually early on a Sunday morning.

In the fast lane

The fastest among us live in the East of England. Are they racing around on speedboats on the Norfolk Broads? Other regional differences are found in the North East area, where people walk the most of any region ( 17km per week).

Geordies, Mackems and Smoggies are also the keenest on shopping, visiting malls for the longest time ( 156 minutes on average). And those in the South West region do the most travelling overall, with an average weekly distance of 285km.

The data has confirmed facts that we might have suspected, but otherwise had no evidence for. We discovered, for example, that people living closer to a train station will spend less time there on average. Presumably this is because they use that station frequently, so know how long it’ll take to get there.

And there are new, counter-intuitive inferences to be made from the data, too. Once we have, as is typical, settled down into family life with a partner, our transport choices are more mundane. What fascinates me here is that it seems it is not affluence first that dictates our choices – but lifestyle, and perhaps responsibility.

The figures show that people in social grade A are 13% more likely to travel by taxi; but single people are 42% more likely to do so than groups of other marital status. So single people’s choices are perhaps founded on more than just cost.

These things are surprising precisely because, of course, our ideas about trends are always coloured by our personal experience – regardless of how objective we feel we are. So the only way to be sure about insights is to consult data; and the best way of collecting that data is passively. Never before have we known so much about consumers’ behaviour out of the home and never has outdoor planning been so exciting.