Why is It So Difficult to Reduce Car Use?

Why is It So Difficult to Reduce Car Use?

WINNER OF The Planning for Sustainable Land Use and Transport Award


R L Mackett, University College London, UK



The car bestows many benefits on users, but there are reasons to consider whether car use can be reduced.

In the paper three types of factor are identified which make reducing the level of car use difficult: lack of motivation, lifestyle, and difficulties in walking, cycling and using public transport.

Whilst it is simple conceptually to identify ways that might attract people out of their cars, in practice it is not, because so many households have adopted car-orientated lifestyles. This is partly the result of building new roads as a result of using the orthodox travel demand methodology. This has been exacerbated by policies across many fields, which have encouraged decentralisation.

It can be argued that the methods used for forecasting and scheme appraisal are biased towards use of the car. Travel demand models represent the decisions made by users and use the marginal cost of travel, which is fuel cost in the case of the car, which is almost always less than the equivalent public transport fare. The values used in the formulation of generalised costs reflect the fact that the general preference of travellers is to use the car, and so the outcomes reflect this, perpetuating the shift towards the car.

The appraisal methodology puts a positive monetary value on a reduction in travel time. Because cars offer the greatest opportunity to save time, schemes favouring the car are the most likely outcome from such appraisals. Walking and cycling offer health benefits which generally increase with increased journey length. Whilst the NATA (New Approach to Appraisal) system used in Britain is currently being revised, there is a very long way to go.

The overall purpose of this presentation will be to question whether there are biases in the methodologies used by transport planners and developed and taught by academics, that mean that increasing car use is being perpetuated when concepts other than reducing travel time ought to be considered (such are quality of life, social inclusion and protecting the environment).


Association for European Transport