Creating Social Epidemics and Curing Car Addiction - a New Model for Achieving Travel Behaviour Change

Creating Social Epidemics and Curing Car Addiction - a New Model for Achieving Travel Behaviour Change


B Pinkett, D Wylie, A Wares, Peter Brett Associates, UK


A new approach to travel behaviour change is being developed through applying mass behavioural and marketing methodologies, reversing the emphasis on individual travel decisions. The paper explores the role of social networks in achieving mode shift.


My paper will consider current travel behaviour change methodologies from the perspective of achieving mass behavioural change, rather than by aggregating individual and unconnected actions. It is my proposition that by focussing on how to influence an individual?s propensity to change the potentially greater impact of social networks and community relationships are being significantly undervalued.

As behavioural sciences and market research increasingly return to the study of group dynamics and community behaviour it is possible that the emphasis on the individual rational decision maker in personalised travel planning (in its current form) takes travel behaviour change in the opposite direction. This may become a methodological dead end, because it can not be effectively scaled to achieve sufficient volume change.

It is my view that personalised travel planning in the UK has failed to develop further than a number of trial projects because the results and success are predicated on achieving success with small groups of individuals switching modes (i.e. by identifying those with a propensity to change anyway), which then can not be replicated. This is not a model for influencing mass behaviour.

We are testing an approach which places much greater emphasis on communities of common interest, social networks and peer to peer relationships. The existing personalised travel planning models are invariably based on a traditional media and sales ?push? approach, where information is passed down to passive audiences. No matter how personalised the information the opportunity to trigger change can only be limited (in the terms of the Transtheoretical Model of Change by Prochaska and DiClemente (1983) the individual would move from pre contemplation to contemplation, but not necessarily onto action).

The alternative ?pull? model is based on the premise that individuals are much more likely to be influenced by personal intervention from friends, family and colleagues (?people just like us?) and where they actively seek information or advice. For example market research by Mediaedge/cia in 2004 suggests 76% of UK purchasing decisions are based on personal recommendation, while only 15% are influenced by advertising and information. Yet PTP projects are still driven by traditional advertising and marketing models, usually delivered by external ?change agents?.

Central to our approach is securing a critical mass in participation ? for example in Moonee Valley, Melbourne our travel behaviour change project achieved 40% participation from a 10,000 household group. This was delivered through embedding the programme in the community, with local ?influencers? and ?networkers? recruited to directly engage with people and interpreting the message to suit the environment. This approach echoes the ?Tipping Point? theory as popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in 2000, who strongly emphasises the role of context in behaviour change.

In Melbourne we sought to create a tipping point for a social ?epidemic?, encouraging a community desire for change and at the same time seeking a cure to the individual ?addiction? to the private car. By using the behavioural change methodologies applied in health campaigns (smoking, drug addiction, HIV) we are potentially redefining the role of travel planners.

At the heart of our emerging approach are many of the tools of traditional individualised marketing methods ? information, incentives, etc. ? but they are used within the community rather than being external and alien interventions. The marketing world is recognising the importance of ?word of mouth? (WOM) and particularly the difference between endogenous and exogenous WOM ? our approach seeks to generate endogenous (within the community) impacts rather than exogenous (externally generated) WOM, which is seen as disingenuous and ultimately less effective in the long term.

The climate change debate is indicative of the problems faced, with the equivalent of ?environmental fatigue? developing for individuals faced with contradictory and strident messages from ?experts? and the media. Increasingly personalised travel planning may be seen as hectoring and part of the ?nanny state? ? which suggests a sizeable part of the community will be lost to the programme even before it starts.

Mark Earls, the marketing and communications expert, wrote in 2007:

?We have to admit that we cannot make anyone or any group do anything. We cannot communicate with them in isolation or hope to ?persuade them? (as the old advertising models would have it); they influence each other. Only by getting individuals and groups to choose to do something for their own reasons ? often largely social ? will change in behaviour come about.?

In summary this paper will review theories of mass behaviour change in marketing and psychology, apply them to travel and transport, with examples provided from projects in Australia (2005) and UK (2008).


Association for European Transport