Overview

It's worth picking up a trick or two from the marketing industry as well as public health theory

Life’s too short to want to think about every different way of travelling before each journey. So everyday travel tends to be based on habit, and some habits are hard to change. Public health and marketing both provide many useful lessons about how to do this, both in terms of communication as well as making small changes to the environment to ‘nudge’ behaviour. It’s not just about changing behaviour but also maintaining change.

Major companies spend millions on market research and promotions to try to change consumers’ behaviour. If they want to increase their market share, it can be cheaper and easier to improve people’s perceptions of their product than to improve the product itself. And this promotion isn’t just about the technical benefits of the products themselves but more often about selling the lifestyle that they can offer. For example, few car adverts focus on the technical statistics of a particular model, instead they tend to show aspirational people having fun driving.

Unfortunately a lot of publicity to promote walking, cycling and public transport either is very matter-of-fact, focusing on timetables or routes. Or it can come across as ‘worthy’, even ‘preachy’. While people who are particularly environmentally committed may not drive for that reason, for the majority of the public, pollution or climate change is unlikely to be top of their mind when making a decision about how to travel. Promoting convenience and cheapness may be more effective. Similarly while those who cycle regularly may think nothing of wearing hi-viz clothing and anoraks, pictures of people cycling in such clothing are unlikely to appeal to those who rarely get on a bike - it’s not a lifestyle that’s going to sell well.

Influencing travel choices is not just about how you get about but also where you go to and when. For example, people who tend to drive to a supermarket every fortnight for a big shop aren’t realistically going to be able to use a different form of transport for that style of stocking up. Switching from using a car for food shopping to a bike or bus may mean popping in more regularly to local shops and using delivery services.

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