Commuters urged to speak to each other under new scheme to tackle loneliness

Transport for London, Virgin Trains and Arriva are all taking part

Sarah Young
Friday 14 June 2019 08:13
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Public transport companies in the UK are encouraging people to talk to their fellow passengers as part of the BBC’s Crossing Divides On the Move day.

The initiative, which will run across the UK on Friday, is designed to spark conversations between passengers in a bid to break down society’s barriers and combat loneliness.

A number of transport companies are rolling out creative ways to encourage a more open and connected public space, including West Coast Virgin Trains which has designated all coach C’s as “chat carriages” for the day.

In addition, bus service Arriva is placing “conversation starter” cards on its routes across England, Wales and Scotland, while National Express is welcoming actors to perform poems and use chatterbox tools to kick-start conversations on Birmingham’s number 11 route.

Transport for London, Greater Anglia and the Go Ahead Group are also taking part, with posters at three London tube stations encouraging people to talk to staff.

Crossing Divides on the Move has been orchestrated by a team of BBC journalists to test the theory that people can benefit from talking to strangers.

Emily Kasriel, a BBC editor behind the project, said the aim is to bring people together so we might better understand other people’s worlds.

“We often start the day in the cocoon of our family, housemates, or alone – and then at work are surrounded by our colleagues,” Kasriel tells The Independent.

“It is during our journeys that we are most exposed to people who are different. Yet too often we remain hidden in our screens or shut off between our headphones.

“By coming into contact with others, we may begin to understand other people’s worlds and help create a greater sense of belonging.”

The scheme has been launched on the back of a 2014 study that suggests commuters have a significantly better experience when they connect with a stranger than when they sit in solitude.

In the study, led by Nicholas Epley at the University of Chicago, participants were told to either talk to no one, carry on as usual or make conversation with whoever sat next to them.

The results showed that those asked to chat felt far more positive about their journey than those who kept to themselves, and that the longer people talked for the better they felt.

In a blogpost for the BBC, Epley explained that one reason why talking to fellow passengers might improve a person’s mood is that “the experience of talking with others and hearing a stranger’s voice makes us realise they have a rich inner life of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences, just like us”.

Epley added: “These brief connections with strangers are not likely to turn a life of misery into one of bliss.

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“However, they can change unpleasant moments – like the grind of a daily commute – into something more pleasant.”

“Connecting with others increases happiness, but strangers in close proximity routinely ignore each other.”

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