Step by step

Step by step

Thinking who travels and why, plus how you can influence them, whether in terms of making different ways of getting about better or simply changing habits

You don’t need to work through each of the headings below for each travel initiative but they should really help you think more systematically about what journeys, by whom and when that you are likely to be able to influence and how best to do this.

Types of people and journeys

Journey purposes

The most important distinctions relate to purpose of travelling:

  • commuting - regular daily travel to and from work
  • work - such as to a meeting or making a delivery
  • visiting friends or family
  • shopping - for food, clothes etc.
  • personal business - such as to a doctor or escorting someone to school
  • other leisure - such as going out in the evening, a day trip to a visitor attraction or a longer holiday
  • education - to school or college

 These are broadly arranged in terms of the total distance travelled (with the greatest first) but the ordering would be different if it was in terms of numbers of trips. Distances to schools are normally quite short but the school run can cause congestion in local areas so is often something worth trying to influence.

Life stages

The more everyday a journey is, the more likely it is to be a result of habit:  you’re not going to reassess how you travel to work, for example, every time you leave the house. People are most likely to change travel behaviour when other things in their life are changing, sometimes known as ‘transitions’. These can be a particularly good time to give people travel information but there are other opportunities too:

  • Moving home - even if to a difference street rather than a new area
  • Life stage - such as becoming adult, having kids, retirement
  • Change in place - of education or work
  • Health issues or just a New Year resolution
  • Visiting a new place, such as a short holiday break
  • Disruption - such as roadworks, line closures, strikes, extreme weather events

Different types of people

It’s worth thinking about the different types of people you can influence. Marketing professionals and sociologists spend a lot of time to divide people into different social classes - this is sometimes called ‘segmentation’. Certainly what might influence an affluent professional could be different to what might be relevant to someone that is job seeking. Similarly someone who is visiting your area may be easier to influence than someone who has lived there a long time.

Theories of change

Psychology helps explain how people’s behaviour changes and this has been used to great effect in public health campaigns, such as against smoking. This breaks down behaviour into different stages:

  • pre-contemplation - the idea hasn’t even entered into the mind
  • contemplation - thinking about it
  • preparation - taking actual steps to do it
  • action - doing it
  • maintenance - keeping going
  • termination - someone has given up

 What this means in practice is that individuals may be at different stages and you may need to be realistic about how fast they can move from one to the other. Obviously it depends on the context but it can take three months for someone to move from a contemplation to a preparation stage. Equally if someone in their family is pressuring them to do something, they may jump a stage.

So for example, you may have warmed a lot of people in your community up to the idea of cycling, or taking the bus, something they may have never considered was an option for them before. But on the ground it may look as if you haven’t made any difference. So don’t give up yet!

Thinking through choices rationally

Different forms of travel offer relative advantages over each other. You can compare them, just like if you are comparing mobile phone deals or holiday choices, 

Thinking in this way can help you improve the offer of different forms of travel locally but do remember particular factors can be deal makers or deal breakers. Riding a bike or walking to work through the park on a lovely, sunny day may take a bit longer - but can really be worth it. On the other hand taking a bus late at night may mean waiting in a place that feels unsafe and so a much more expensive taxi ride home is felt to be the only option.

The following is a good list of factors to start from but remember that people may weigh up the following factors differently depending on the purpose of their journey. Reliability is important for work trips, convenience for daily errands and fun for leisure trips, for example.

  • journey time - think about door to door times
  • reliability - both how often there can be delays and how severe they can be
  • cost - think about the total cost (servicing, depreciation) as well as marginal cost (fuel)
  • convenience - hassle of parking, carrying things, interchange
  • health - benefits of exercise
  • safety - fear of (subjective) as well as likelihood (objective) of being injured in a crash
  • security - fear of attack or theft of belongings, your car or bike
  • social status - whether the form of transport fits with your own aspirations as well as those in your community, family etc

Looking at behaviour

Although this is last, it is certainly not least, as the latest research shows the importance of understanding how and why people act. In order for individuals to choose them, new behaviours - in other words different travel choices - need to seem:


  • More advantageous – for example how you perceive the costs and benefits as set out above
  • More ‘me’ – fit with how you see yourself and/or your aspirations
  • More common – increased awareness of who else is doing it
  • More doable – increased confidence in ability to do it yourself


The opposite is also true - if something you are doing starts to feel less of any of the above, such as where the cost increases or where your peers aren’t doing it, such as when they start getting driving licences.

There’s lots more information about this in a Behavioural Insights Toolkit (pdf) published by the Department for Transport. One good example it gives is how car sharing was initially promoted as environmentally friendly and this only attracted a minority of drivers. Car sharing became much more popular when advertising changed to highlighted cost savings, the convenience of not having to insure a car etc, as well as car sharing being part of modern, free-wheeling lifestyle.

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