Testimony: Science and Technology Select Committee, UK House of Lords

In the last weeks I was asked to provide written testimony and evidence in answer to a “Call for Evidence” for the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee on the subject of “Behaviour Change —Travel-Mode Choice Interventions to Reduce Car Use in Towns and Cities”. As can happen in these things, in my remarks I moved away from the chosen topic (instruments for behaviour change),  on the grounds that there are other more fundamental issues that need to be tackled first. In the following you will find my submittal of last Monday to the committee, whom I thank for giving me this opportunity to share my views.

Science and Technology Select Committee, House of Lords

Call for Evidence: Behaviour Change

—Travel-Mode Choice Interventions to Reduce Car Use in Towns and Cities –

The House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee has appointed a sub¬committee, chaired by Baroness Neuberger, to investigate the use of behaviour change interventions to achieve policy goals. As part of this inquiry, the sub-Committee has decided to conduct a second case study into the use of behaviour change interventions to alter travel-mode choice in order to reduce car use in towns and cities and therefore the level of carbon emissions from transport.

Behaviour change interventions to encourage people to travel more sustainably have become an integral part of transport policies in recent years, featuring in the previous Government’s Low Carbon Transport Strategy of 2009. To date, however, such interventions do not appear to have led to a major change in transport mode choice, or a significant reduction in CO2 emissions.

The Committee would welcome submissions on behaviour change interventions, whether in the public sector, the private sector or by voluntary organisations, designed to change travel-mode choice in order to reduce car use in towns and cities, in the United Kingdom or internationally.

Evidence submission and commentary

– Eric Britton, New Mobility Agenda and World Streets.
Paris France. 26 January 2011

0.  Summary

The submittal that follows is quite rough due to time limitations, but here is a summary of the key points that I would hope to draw to your attention. Thank you for bearing in mind that these observations and suggestions come from someone who has been in and out of the UK for professional reasons over the years but whose work is primarily international.

The submittal that follows is quite rough due to time limitations, but here is a summary of the key points that I would hope to draw to your attention. Thank you for bearing in mind that these observations and suggestions come from someone who has been in and out of the UK for professional reasons over the years but whose work is primarily international.

1. I address this committee on the understanding that you are looking for information, ideas, perspective and arguments to define and defend the public interest: social, economic, environmental, without reference to party or politics of whatever stripe..

2. While the exact question you are addressing – better understanding matters of behaviour change and ways to reduce car use in cities – is a good one, I would propose that it will be useful to take a step back first to determine if that in fact is the best next step or issue to be considered under the circumstances. I would say that there is a broader set of issues and trade-offs behind it which need to be sorted out first.

3. Our past international work makes it clear that the range of viable alternatives to own-car travel are too few in number and far too low in quality to give citizens reasonable (i.e., competitive) options. This is true virtually all over the world and certainly true in the UK.

4. It is in this context that the whole idea of “behavior modification” comes into context. For if the game is see how we might today or in the near future tempt people to opt for what for many users might be considered to be an inferior mobility options (example: inferior quality public transport) , then there is something fundamentally disloyal about such a concept. The first step has to be to develop competitive alternatives to car travel, and then to use our various analytic and operational tools and measures to bring them to the attention to the public so that they can in turn make their own choices.

5. We need to bear in mind that advantages of car travel to car owners are considerable, and even more so from a psychological perspective if we bear in mind that the “next trip” one takes in ones car is generally considered as being “free”. So whatever our alternatives are in a fair society they must be many in number – bearing in mind that the car offers quite a broad range of potential services – and they must be seen as being competitive. Including being perceived as “free” as using your own car for that next trip.

6. Which of course is very far from being the case today. But at least once we become aware of this underlying reality, the real challenge of “behavioral change interventions” becomes far more clearly delineated.

7. Popular conceptions aside, it is an incontrovertible fact that the majority of people in the UK are for a wide range of reasons not car owner/drivers: they are either too young or too old to drive, too infirm, too tired, too nervous, lack the necessary physical flexibility and reflexes, not psychologically prepared for the responsibility, cannot really afford a car (though they still may have one), have dangerous driving habits (smokers, drugs, mobile phones, text messages and other dangerous distractions), or perhaps simply prefer to live without a car — and the long list goes on. This is an important political point. We are looking at a majority of the population, and all these people vote (even if they are not effectively organized as are the car and road lobbies). These citizens need and deserve first class alternatives to own-car travel, and the public authorities (and private players) are not yet providing enough of them.

8. This outside-looking-in view of transport, mobility and infrastructure in the UK makes it clear that you have grossly overbuilt your infrastructure in and around cites – and are now grossly under-managing it. This is, in fact, very good news. What it means is that you are not going to have to spend great gobs of taxpayer money on expensive infrastructure in the immediate future – you can instead get on with the management and creative innovation functions. The entire challenge is thus well within your means.

9. But you lack an overarching strategy. You have many groups working on various pieces of the puzzle, but as far as I can make out there is not broader unified vision or strategy. This is vital to determining what government could and should be doing next.

10. I therefore strongly recommend that you lay the base for a national dialogue on the topic of how to go from today’s grossly unsatisfactory situation to a far more sustainable transport system as quickly as possible – and specifically in the period 2011 – 2015, starting this year. And as part of this dialogue there should be an immediate push to create and share information on numerous outstanding demonstration projects which show the way in detail to what the broad strategic lines are trying to target and obtain.

* * *

The climate of unsustainable transport in the UK – An outsider’s view

– “How can a man, riding on an ox, looking for an ox, ever find an ox?”

(You first have to get off the ox).


I shall get to your questions shortly, but to be useful to you I must first take a few steps back and share with you what I, as an interested and not entirely unformed observer of the UK transportation and government policy situation, have noted over several decades.

I hope these remarks will serve your committee as evidence from an outsider international perspective that I have been able to develop through a long process of in-place observations, consulting and advisory work exactly in the field of sustainable transport and sustainable cities over many years and around the world.

I look at the issues that define transport, sustainable and otherwise, in the UK with some knowledge and considerable sympathy, if at times a certain level of impatience as I ask myself how is it that, with all the assets you have in hand, you are with all too few exceptions doing  so poorly in the broad area of sustainable transport, whether at the level of specific projects, cities or, indeed the country as a whole.

Policy soft spots:

Why is this? Well, as an outsider I spot a certain number of soft spots which you really could correct once you put your minds to it. And once you have the appropriate strategic structure in place – this is really at the end of the day what is most lacking – an appropriate, articulated, explicit, responsible, consistent and continuing strategy for sustainability — many of the specific questions you bring up here will become clearer. The so-called soft spots in your policy frame  include:

1.      Your successive governments, of no matter what political stripe, give full expression to the idea of supporting sustainability and pattern-break innovations  until they take office – at which point they become de facto bearers of the standard of old mobility, old ways, and unsustainable transport. This of course is not limited to the UK, but still that is no excuse.

2.      In general one notes a tendency among a quite large share of the brightest people working in the sector in government, to be far better at criticizing and shooting down than creating and supporting useful actions. There is an almost comic situation in which new ideas from outside the assigned channels get shot down before they have had a chance to mature and advance.  Greater openness and creativity needs to be encouraged (but there you really have a problem of behavior change.).

3.      Local government holds the key to the move to sustainable transport but is  today confused and nervous. The local council leaders have a hard enough row to hoe just to keep what they have going as well as they possibly  can. They face real problems of resources, but above all seem to me to have a major vision failure. And if you don’t have the vision, you have nowhere to go.

4.      Your NGOs and various interest and action groups are often world class, however for the most part  are organized into and operate as quasi self-contained silos. And those who do take a broader approach are for the most part substantially underused assets. The attitude of government to these important assets strikes me as ranging from patronizing to evasive to adversarial, and all too often altogether unhelpful.

5.      Currently the deep cuts and lack of serous support for sustainability on the part of your latest government are putting just about everybody who is committed to and working on the sustainability and social issues in the sector on the defensive  so there is today a general climate of deep despair, which I very much hope your committee will be able to help reverse.

6.      The UK continues to be an island when it comes to deep knowledge about what is going on at the leading edge in other parts of the world. You need to get around more to develop hands-on knowledge about what works, and what doesn’t.  The EU helps a bit with its various programs, but does not seem to be lively or creative enough, or sufficiently catalytic to see off a wave of innovations. In all too many cases the process of questioning and evidence building for decision tends to get stuck in the island.

7.      A clear vision and understandable (by all) is needed to pull all of this together. That vision at present does not  exist.  This is not the place for me to articulate what I firmly believe to be the strategy that is needed to break this impasse. But let me at least try to give you a few of the main pillars of what I believe needs to be done to give yourselves the needed firm base.

8.      The only possible strategic  starting point is to make it the prime government policy (a) to reduce VMT steadily starting in 2011; and (b) make this the central core of all government policy and investment decisions for the period 2011-2015.  Cutting back VMT has many enormous advantages, environmental, social, economic and strategic. And it can be done, but only with new thinking and strong leadership and participation from many levels of society.  We have to help your government to understand this.

9.      Once you have the strategic basics in place, the second core element of a viable sustainable transport policy has to be absolute consistency. No shilly-shallying. The same rigorous acid tests of cost-effectiveness, performance and impacts need to be applied to all public expenditures and investments.  Once these principles are put into place, it is surprising how easy it become to separate the wheat from the chaff.

10.  The third core value in the years immediately ahead has to be frugality. We are living in hard economic times. All allocations of public moneys need to be reviewed and decided rigorously on the basis of the actual impacts that are achieved within the rigorous planning and policy structure. This works out well since almost everything that is needed to achieve these strategic objectives can be achieved with far lower levels of public investment than the old heavily infrastructure-oriented policies.

11.  The soul of success in sustainable development is not only vision, but also continuity once you get into an action mode. There is a huge amount of start and stop in Britain, which does no one any great good. It discourages and acts to sap the courage and energy of the sector.

12.  And finally the grim bottom line reality. If you spend all your money on infrastructure you get infrastructure. But if what you want is high quality and fair mobility, well you have to spend the money on people. Year after year, government after government, you are consistently spending the great part of taxpayer money for the sector to support cars and roads. But the appropriate starting place for transport policy is people, not hardware  I guess the first step has to be for you to figure out who you are and who you want to be.

I thought it important that I set the stage in this broader way so that you can see from where I come on all this. But I shall now dig into three of the questions you ask.

II. Responses to selected questions:

1. What are the most influential drivers of behaviour affecting an individual’s choice of mode of travel?

1.     Let me look for now at just one specific modal choice example to see if we can find some clues: Why do people decide to join carclubs?  There is plenty of experience and evidence eon this. Here as someone with rather deep knowledge of the field is my quick read of the evidence from the perceive of the user:

a.       The alternative offers an improved mobility option in specific situations.

b.      It is considerably cheaper than owning and operating an nth car.

c.       It frees the driver from the charge and cost of dealing with parking

d.      It opens up a number of advantages of being “carfree” – that is unencumbered by the burden (financial, time, inconvenience) of such  things as vehicle maintenance, upkeep, insurance, fueling

e.       There are bragging rights associated with backing away from be totally unsustainable.

f.       Most if not all people who share cars in this way have at least some awareness that they are behaving responsibly in terms of environment  and climate.

What can we ascertain concerning your question from this brief and admittedly incomplete off the cuff profile?  Simple:

holYou must be able to offer a superior travel option  if people are going to make new and better choices. This is a challenge since the received wisdom has been that public transport (which is almost always very narrowly defined: fixed route, schedules services, usually run on a deficit and government financed) is basically the poor man’s transport that Mrs. Thatcher reminded us all about so vividly so long ago. Waiting for a bus in the rain is not an option.

Also: this suggests that we have a far broader and more strategic picture of what in act are those “other modes” as opposed to only and travelling by own car.  Here are a very wide range of alternative options and it is important to know and understand them in depth, before asking about choice criteria.

2. What is the role of infrastructure in encouraging and facilitating changes in travel-mode choice?

Of course it is vital. But not perhaps as one might at first think. Here are a couple of important infrastructure truths which once properly understood give some useful clues for effective government policy at all levels.

a.       Our road and parking infrastructure in almost all of our cities across Europe, and certainly in the UK, have been grossly  over-developed in terms of their dimensions and share of the total land area of the city. In summary: we have over-built and under-managed. When we understand this, it opens up a whole new strategy of polices and measures adapted to this situation.

b.       And we know too of course that the answers to the problems we face do not lie in more building and other forms of capacity expansion. For either moving or parked cars.  This hard earned lesson is clear beyond any doubt.

c.        So, we go to work with what we have. (which turns out to be a very good thing indeed).

d.       21 century infrastructure policies (a) shift available street space away from inefficient users of that space (namely private cars) and (b) make it available to efficient users, namely pedestrians, cyclists, public transit and other forms of shared transport.

e.        The strategy has to be not a “war on motorists” but a deliberate and steady tightening of the noose on all inefficient users of the city’s scarce space and environment. In addition to reducing road space available for these inefficient users (a purely physical strategy) a critical component of the infrastructure use strategy has to be the strategic reduction of parking space for private cars. This is a far more cost-effective policy than congestion charging, and lends itself to being planned and handled with political address.

f.        A key tool in infrastructure management is that of slowing down all traffic in built up areas. There is no good reason why all city traffic in the UK should not be strictly limited to a 10/20/30 mph strategy. The justifications for this are accident reduction and a range of public health and environment improvements.

But we are for the couple of decades ahead still be seeing lots of cars in and around our cities, so our strategy must take this into account and not simply plunge into a denial mode. Cars are not the enemy, they have a place in society, but their indiscriminate inappropriate use is something that we can remedy. With strategy, with technology, with people skills and with patience.

3. What are the most appropriate type and level of interventions to change travel-mode choice?

You have to start at the other end of the travel-mode choice chain.

The most creative thing you could do in the UK in the years immediately ahead and starting now (since it is possible) is to organize and deliver through creative partnerships  a broader palette of high quality alternative transport options.

This is a long list which can start with things like access control measures, strategic parking policies,  innovative public transport, car clubs, ridesharing, new uses of taxis and small bus/van systems, safer and better cycling conditions in the city, ditto for walking, integrated ticketing and access systems, improved and consistent enforcement of regulations,  and the long list goes on.

The target mode has to stretch way beyond traditional scheduled fixed route public transport and bus services. They are going to be part of the solution, but only part.

A core driver for all new services is going to be information and communications technologies, so if you are going to use policy to drive innovation, here is a sector that bears far better promise than the traditional costly vehicle, motor and fuel technologies which are the proper affair of the private sector.

# # #

My time is up. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my experience and views with you. It is encouraging to know that you are giving these issues importance and looking for new thinking and new solutions to these pressing problems, challenges . . . and, yes, opportunities.

Eric Britton

Some references for the reader

  • PDF of this article is available here
  • The World Streets Mission Statement provides additional depth of background on the overall strategic approach referred to here – http://wp.me/PsKUY-xq
  • A recent interview with  the author appeared in Mobility Magazine on 20 January 2011 — available at http://wp.me/psKUY-1ih

8, rue J. Bara 75006 Paris | eric.britton@newmbolity.org | +331 7550 3788 | Skype: newmobility

6 thoughts on “Testimony: Science and Technology Select Committee, UK House of Lords

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  2. Eric,

    Excellent testimony! A simultaneous increase in alternatives and decrease in on-street parking provides the means for behavior change with a positive/hopeful impact.


  3. You’ve taken on a big topic and done an excellent job putting things in context. My comment would be – how to do we know these strategies “don’t work” since we’ve only tried them in the most basic ways?

    In addition, I hope someone has referred the Subcommittee to the excellent work of both:
    – SUSTRAN and Werner Brog, SocialData – if simply providing information in a customized way can achieve 9 to 15% mode shift with existing alt. modes imagine what would be possible if excellent public options were available on s much wider basis?
    – Todd Litman, Victoria Transportion Policy Institute and his excellent encyclopedia of “what works”.

  4. Let me say what I think.

    First of all, I would have liked to see something about the need to consider non-urban travel, which is set to increase as a proportion of all travel. I know that this wasn’t in the original remit of the study but you might have said that it should have been.

    1. Agreed, but there are differences of degree between governments. The present one is one of the worst — yes it’s cut back on Heathrow expansion and some road building but these are offset by its negligence with respect to local buses outside London.

    3. This seems to suggest that local government is interested in sustainable transport. Recent events suggest that their apparent interest in past years is solely a result of pressure from central government which has now set the incentives in such a way that they want to get rid of all public transport as fast as they can.

    We need both to empower sub-national government (by replacing bus deregulation by democratic regional transport authorities) and to incentivise it (by making funding dependent on traffic reduction).

    4-8. Agreed.

    9. The trouble with frugality is that it leads to a kind of “kicking the ladder”
    mentality. Roads people have remade our cities and towns their way with public money but when sustainable travellers ask we’re told there’s no money.

    I am agnostic about high speed rail, but I am 100% sure that it should not be a priority at a time when our local bus networks are disintegrating as a result of government policy.

    1 (in II). We need to start coupling car clubs with reduction in residential parking to give people a real incentive to join them. This will also free up space for sustainable transport of many types (including buses) and community use, and relieve the problem of finding parking spaces for essential business movements (e.g. builders working on houses).

    2 (d). I’m afraid that that’s what people like our Transport Minister would call a war on motorists. I’m not sure what you mean by “cost effective” with respect to congestion charging (cost to whom ?) and I think there is a good case for road user charging to finance improvements (both for capital and revenue purposes). You may be interested in the website which has been set up by a Cambridge county councillor to promote such a strategy.

    3. Swiss style integrated transport systems. These won’t be the whole solution but they will be the biggest element in it.



    Call for Evidence: Behaviour Change – Travel-Mode Choice Interventions to Reduce Car Use in Towns and Cities

    I am Chris Bradshaw, retired municipal specialist in public consultation and retired carsharing entrepreneur (www.vrtucar.com), who stays active through being vice-chair of the Ottawa Seniors Transportation Committee, in Canada’s Capital. My wife and I live ‘car-lite.’ [Contacts: hearth@ties.ottawa.on.ca, or 613-230-4566; website: http://www.hearthhealth.wordpress.com]

    Here are my responses to your very apt questions:

    a. what are the most influential drivers of behaviour affecting an individual’s choice of mode of travel;

    I believe the most important driver is the kind of car access that exists. Today, there is little choice but to own a car that one then drives as needed and, equally importantly, as desired. Ownership is full of emotional ‘baggage’ as well as costs that are ‘sunk’ or fixed. These conspire to incent owners to use their cars excessively, beyond absolute needs, and even to manipulate their life situation to cause them to drive ever more frequently, farther, and faster. The competitive nature of roadways means they also drive more frantically.

    The second most important driver is the expectation that the only kind of car access is that which the person needing to reach a destination has to drive himself; being a passenger is considered by auto companies and so many other social leaders as being second-class. This forces those who can’t drive at all into a second-class status with regard to transportation and forces society to tolerate many drivers who do not meet – at times or all the time – reasonable standards of care and control of their vehicle.

    These two drivers result in making the automobile a very inefficient means of transportation (vehicles are parked 85% of the time; and when used are mostly empty and very often in congestion). Why widen roads for such inefficiency?

    b. what is the role of infrastructure in encouraging and facilitating changes in travel-mode choice;

    There is a dread by society any time that any demand for driving this underutilized device might not be met. Rather than build more facilities for the mode that is the most road-hoggish, it would be better to invest in infrastructure that would focus clearly on major jumps in efficiency of the rolling fleet. That would be: a) better facilities for walking and cycling, b) a transit focus on just the high-density and future high-density corridors, and c) recognition that cars should be used in shared fashion for other longer in-city trips, by investing in the information technology to track vehicles, the seats and cargo areas within them, and the intentions of those – both drivers and riders – making trips requiring cars.

    That last one would also include, if necessary during introductory periods, government investing in the shared-vehicle fleet where no entrepreneurs have yet set up shop.

    c. what are the latest developments in the evidence-base in relation to changing travel-mode choice and the implications of those developments for policy;

    The car-sharing industry has shown the eagerness of especially younger people to purchase car-access rather than cars. They ‘get it.’ See Nelson-Nygaard study for TCRP (US) and the work of Susan Shaheen at the U. of California at Berkeley. Growth in this sector is enhanced by limited local municipal government support (e.g., Arlington VA, USA) for on-street parking of shared vehicles.

    d. what are the most appropriate type and level of interventions to change travel-mode choice;

    Establish a transportation bill of rights recognizing the rights of both those who are not allowed to drive and the right of city residents to quiet, clean air, safe (from collisions) streets, and convivial public places (enough “eyes on the street” that gives truth to the saying, “feet follow fabric). Second, require all car manufacturers who sells in the UK, to ensure their cars are also available in other access methodologies: car-sharing, taxis, rental, and ridesharing at levels commensurate with their sales. With IT, these different services will probably merge.

    Government should also make streets safer through a fair-outcome law that removes the driver’s license of any driver involved in a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist – regardless of legal blame – such that the driver doesn’t get his privilege-to-drive restored until the other party regains their ability to walk/cycle (the latter’s death would relegate the driver to a perpetual status of ‘rider,’ which, because of the other interventions, will be far less punitive).

    e. who are the most effective agents for the delivery of behaviour interventions to change travel-mode choice;

    Citizens through neighbourhood associations need to drive this by bringing together those who not only want less car traffic on their streets, but more destinations for goods and services near-at-hand. The experience of using shared cars (driving or riding) is to naturally favour this higher-density/mix-use city and town setting for their lives, to remove the ‘schizophrenia’ or the same people saying slow the traffic one minute and speed it up the next.

    f. how do current behaviour change interventions seek to change travel-mode choice and what use is made of available scientific evidence;

    Too much emphasis is made on promoting transit, walking, or cycling in isolation from each other. Too much focus is also on improving these modes to match what a car provides, rather than taking from the car some of its advantages, especially its speed and its free-ride on parking and road-use, as well as favouritism in property taxes for sprawlish housing and commerce.

    Carsharing is ignored because it is rarely used for commuting, which is true. But carsharing represents a different approach: reducing car-ownership, rather than the use of personal cars (which is growing because of not only ownership’s high fixed costs, but the staggering number of jobs at worksites with free parking and lacking noon-hour conveniences and access to shared cars). Carsharing attends to the non-commute trips that, in its absence, leaves most households that avoid car-use for commuting still with the need to own one.

    Also, the car industry distracts governments away from reduced-car-ownership initiatives through support of technology improvements to privately-owned cars, such as vehicle size, motor efficiency, and fuel sources. But these approaches have such a long history that there is few benefits left to be realized, and they ignore: a) congestions, b) sprawl, c) transportation inequity, d) health outcomes (trauma, obesity, and stress), and e) reduced economic competitiveness due to loss of the conviviality of public and semi-public spaces (cf. Whyte, WH City: Rediscovering the Centre; Jacobs, J Death & Life of Great Am. Cities; and Oldenberg, R The Great Good Place).

    g. are current policy interventions addressing both psychological and environmental barriers to change;

    The ‘elephant in the room” is car-ownership. It – along with the mythology its manufacturers spin to sell cars – drives, if I can use that term, people to do strange, anti-social, inefficient, dangerous things. The recent focus on finding the “reward centre” in the brain is a worthy task, as I think it will find that driving and owning cars has become a fertile source of rewards: taking risks, distraction from problems, small indulgences, touching greatness, mood alteration, and feeling power over others.

    h. are policy interventions appropriately designed and evaluated;

    I don’t believe any are ‘ready for prime time’ because they dance around the deeper relationship people are coached to have with cars.

    i. what lessons have been learnt and applied as a result of the evaluation of policy; and

    Although there is much progress needed, I find the most impressive person in this field to be Robert Cervero, at the University of California at Berkeley. I have followed his work since we met in Boulder Colorado at a conference we both addressed. I would also add Donald Shoup and his ideas on the role of parking policy and car-ownership.

    j. what lessons can be learnt from interventions employed in other countries.

    I am waiting for developing countries – China, India, Indonesia – all of who have fast-growing, dense cities and cultures with a stronger heritage of sharing – to be taking leadership in this approach. But they know that the lust for car-ownership is a major driver of their ‘economies,’ even though I believe it will be their undoing.

    In conclusion: Your committee must be commended for shining a light into this most important area for innovation. The automobile, if it’s role isn’t recast significantly, might get overthrown like the insensitive and greedy tyrants facing revolts in the middle east today.

  6. I broadly agree (or rather very much agree) with your slant and that both the key (infra)structural issues and the leadership issues require addressing before its a ‘fair’ question to ask ‘what should individuals do to change their behaviour’. As a social marketer – interested in investing in understanding people, their behaviours and how we might positively work with those people to influence their behaviours to achieve social good – I like to always ask the ‘product question’: something like: “what are you offering me, and what do I have to do or give to get it”. You allude eloquently to this question of ‘exchange’ in your article.

    I’ll pose one challenge, which is to avoid creating a dichotomy here. Sure, totally agree re the need to re-vision leadership and infrastructure. But at the same time I believe there is also scope for individual behavioural change and that is an important part of the overall jigsaw now. There are plenty of people who do have the opportunity to use efficient, cost effective public transport or other sustainable options, who have the desire and the will but just need a little convincing, need it suggesting in the right way, consistently and it making a little easier (and cheaper, and / or safer) if possible. UK government would say this is the role of nudging – behavioural economics – but current policy rhetoric also seeks to present a false dichotomy between either nudging or some kind of heavy state intervention / regulation / law making. The reality is that a balance is most likely to have the best impact.

    So… vision, leadership, policy and regulation, new models of investment – AND fair, achievable behaviour change as part of the mix.

    Some of any shift in traditional patterns of investment would usefully be channelled towards investing in understanding people, their propensity towards change and ability to achieve it in their current environment and segmenting target groups to understand where activity to encourage behavioural change would have a fair chance of a positive response (and therefore provide the return on investment you rightly cite). A mix of interventions, products and services, regulation, marketing communications and good old public relations would be useful – thought through, clear objectives, measured, learned from.

    There’s an element of not just individual behavioural change here but of medium to longer-term social norms. And a financial consideration. Increased use of public transport where it is possible (eg in Liverpool with an excellent infrastructure and very well serviced arterial public transport routes – bus and train) can and should be an income generator and that income may be channelled in to further investments in sustainable transport. There more people who can and do use public transport, the more the balance tips to encourage others to do so as a social norm – and perhaps to demand it be made possible for them.


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