PhD research

PhD research with a choice modelling context is carried out across different schools at the University of Leeds. For initial enquiries, relating to both topics and funding opportunities, please send an e-mail to General Enquiries from where your query will be directed to potential supervisors.

Specific funding opportunities are announced on this site as and when they arise.

Institute for Transport Studies

ESRC WRDTP Collaborative Studentship – New technologies, travel modes and passenger needs: understanding and predicting the future of rail travel

One ESRC White Rose DTP Collaborative Studentship is available in the Institute for Transport Studies, with the project title ‘New technologies, travel modes and passenger needs:  understanding and predicting the future of rail travel’.  The project’s lead supervisor is Dr Chiara Calastri, Institute for Transport Studies, with co-supervision by Professor Richard Batley, Institute for Transport Studies and Dr Benjamin Ford, Network Rail.

Closing Date for applications: 17:00 (UK Time) Monday 27 February 2023. Full details are available here.

Rail travel has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with passenger numbers falling more than any other mode.  Railway operators around the world have attempted to bring passengers back to rail through a range of policies, but current ridership is still substantially lower than pre-pandemic levels.  The UK government increased from £10.4 billion to £16.9 billion as a result of the 77% reduction in passenger numbers resulting from the pandemic.  To make rail financially sustainable and ensure that the recovery of travel patterns is in line with decarbonisation objectives, the rail industry and travel behaviour researchers seek to understand the factors that will maintain and potentially enhance the attractiveness of rail travel over the next 30 years.  Will passengers expect faster trains, or will they prioritise comfort and the ability to work and relax while travelling?  How will rail interact with new modes, such as shared mobility, autonomous vehicles, advanced air mobility (AAM) and hyperloop?  Will new modes become a complement to or substitute for rail – and how will they affect the contribution of passenger rail to the journey as a whole?  The answers to these questions will have wide ranging implications, not only for rail (eg future capacity needs, the planning of rail services, and the design of stations and vehicles), but also for other modes (eg the provision of road space), as well as associated implications for society such as economic efficiency, social equity and decarbonisation.

Some studies have provided initial insights, but existing evidence is limited, and existing data is characterised by a low representativeness and fidelity.

The project aims to explore the future challenges facing rail by exploring Network Rail’s unique positioning as the provider of GB’s rail infrastructure, together with the internationally recognised expertise of the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds in the fields of economics and behavioural/choice modelling applied to rail and transport more generally.  The student will gather new and existing qualitative and quantitative data, to develop behavioural models that will elicit understanding of the factors affecting current rail demand, and inform predictions of how demand will change in response to a range of future scenarios.  Since the research context deals with future states which do not presently exist, they naturally lend themselves to experimental techniques which elicit preferences relating to hypothetical scenarios, such as Stated Preference (SP) analysis.  From this methodological starting point, there will be exploration of methods to reduce the biases (eg policy response bias) that are sometimes inherent in SP data, such as the scope for merging with other forms of data (eg Revealed Preference, RP) from the intra- and post-pandemic periods.  The latter could conceivably capture trends which were already emerging before the onset of Covid-19, such as the increased propensity to work from home.

Network Rail will potentially exploit the new knowledge developed in the course of this project to inform policy and planning in a range of different areas, for example: the setting of track access charges to reflect the marginal value of rail to the passenger; the design of line plans and the timetable to meet passenger needs; the business case for investing in stations and other infrastructure to encourage modal interface (eg with e-mobility); and more generally, the future provision of rail that is needed to meet passenger requirements 30 years hence.

The successful applicant will have the opportunity to undertake a 3-month virtual internship, with the possibility of 4-week in-person period as well as a minimum of 5 visits to Network Rail’s offices.


EPSRC Doctoral training partnership

There are competition-funded places for PhD positions in the Faculty of Environment, University of Leeds. Full details below:

EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership Award 2023/24- Faculty of Environment | Funding Opportunities | PhD | University of Leeds

The following two topics would be supervised by CMC members. Please contact us if you are interested in applying.

Clean Planes, Offsets, Flight-Shame: Modelling Passenger Behaviour in The Changing Air Travel Landscape | Project Opportunities | PhD | University of Leeds

Modelling ‘Difficult’ Choices Combining Virtual Reality and Physiological Data | Project Opportunities | PhD | University of Leeds