Travel Choices Education

Car Busters 26, March - May 2006

Dear Anna
As a UK high school teacher, I am worried about my students' love for their cars. Even my colleagues cannot help but talk about driving all the time. Do you have any advice for how we can educate the public about the alternatives?

Dear High School Teacher
Modal shift education aims to persuade people to drive less. Managing demand through 'Intelligent Travel' works on hearts and minds rather than on physical changes such as altered road layout or transport services. Education is very cost effective, but drive less messages are under-funded compared to lavish advertising from car corporations.

There is hope. Around half of Scottish drivers want to cut their car use according to Prof. Steve Stradling, Psychologist at the Transport Research Institute, Napier University Edinburgh. In "Public Perceptions of Travel Awareness 2005" he classifies four driver groups:

1) Die hard drivers;
2) Complacent motorists less attached to motoring, but see no reason to change;
3) Malcontent motorists who find driving stressful and want to cut their car use, but can't see how, particularly in rural areas;
4) Aspiring environmentalists who actively try to cut their car use.

Though targeting die hard drivers won't work, travel education might make complacent and malcontent motorists try harder!

There is perhaps a fifth group of aspiring motorists, generally teenagers. A review of published research by students of Ian Roberts, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, including a large US study of 17,000 children found that those who received most driver education had higher crash rates than those who received none. If you tell children about driving they will start sooner, go out on the roads more and crash more.

"Making Campaigning for Smarter Choices Work, 2005" by Transport & Travel Research Ltd and the Transport Studies Group at the University of Westminster points out that changed awareness and attitudes precede behavioural change.

1 Awareness of car related problems
2 Accepting responsibility
3 Realising that there are alternatives
4 Evaluating alternatives to solo car travel
5 Making a choice to modify behaviour
6 Trying out new choices
7 Adopting a sustainable alternative

Cost effective interventions target the right driver group and level of thinking. The fourth stage of evaluating options for travelling less or more sustainably is crucial. This is where personalised travel planning is invaluable. An expert clarifies choices, for instance, for each commuter - not just the public transport number and route, but also the times and prices on both outward and a choice of return journeys.

Sometimes helping drivers find a lift share partner or learn about altered working hours, is required as many drivers are not awake to change or too busy or lazy to investigate it seriously. Education aims to make it easier for malcontented drivers to change.

There is also a right time in terms of life events. When people move home, change jobs or start a new school or university they are ripe for transport messages. The birth of a first baby is also when traffic reduction education might be effective. Many new parents are tempted to buy a car when they have a child.

Successful educational methods for relocators or new starters are site specific guides and lift share matching. I authored the University of York's travel guide which included 11 modes: walking; cycling; bus; train; taxi; mini bus; car share; car hire; coach; car and had information about maps, passes and delivery services. In cases of reduced financial circumstances, such as when people start a family or retire, it is worth teaching how much cars really cost - 18% of spending in the UK or 1 in every 6 pounds is spent on motoring. www.carplus.org.uk has a travel cost calculator that I helped to author, both to add up car costs and compare costs of car ownership to mixing travel modes or see www.cuttingyourcaruse.co.uk.

The best time of day for "drive less" messages are mornings as dawn decisions affect travel behaviour for the rest of the day. If you leave home by a non car method, you are less likely to use a car for the rest of the day. This is why in Finland, breakfast cereal packages have greener driving adverts.

The Green-Engage Project report 'Painting the Town Green' by Steven Hounsham of Transport 2000 published this January 2006 found that to engage the public, green messages must connect with people's hearts as well as their heads. Campaigns should plug into what people are already concerned about and what they aspire to. Benefits should always be tangible, immediate and specific. Plus, The messages must be positive. Fortunately, cutting your car use does save you money, is healthy and green.

Anna Semlyen, author of Cutting Your Car Use (60,000+ sold)www.cuttingyourcaruse.co.uk. We are actively looking for publishers and authors in other countries (except North America). Email john@greenbooks.co.uk

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