, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 329–345 | Cite as

Breaking car use habits: The effectiveness of a free one-month travelcard

  • John Thøgersen
  • Berit Møller


Based on calls for innovative ways of reducing car traffic and research indicating that car driving is often the result of habitual decision-making and choice processes, this paper reports on a field experiment designed to test a tool aimed to entice drivers to skip the habitual choice of the car and consider using—or at least trying—public transport instead. About 1,000 car drivers participated in the experiment either as experimental subjects, receiving a free one-month travelcard, or as control subjects. As predicted, the intervention had a significant impact on drivers’ use of public transport and it also neutralized the impact of car driving habits on mode choice. However, in the longer run (i.e., four months after the experiment) experimental subjects did not use public transport more than control subjects. Hence, it seems that although many car drivers choose travel mode habitually, their final choice is consistent with their informed preferences, given the current price–quality relationships of the various options.


Car use habits Public transport Economic incentive Field experiment 



This paper is the outcome of a research project in the framework of Centre for Transport Research on environmental and health Impacts and Policy (TRIP), a multidisciplinary centre based on collaboration among scholars from a number of Danish universities and other research institutions and financed by the Danish Strategic Environmental Research Program. We are grateful to Tommy Gärling and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version. The authors own the copyright to all included material.


  1. Aarts, H., Verplanken, B., Knippenberg, A.v.: Habit and information use in travel mode choices. Acta Psychol. 96, 1–14 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aarts, H., Verplanken, B., Knippenberg, A.v.: Predicting behavior from actions in the past: repeated decision making or a matter of habit. J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 28, 1355–1374 (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aiken, L.S., West, S.G.: Multiple Regression: Testing and Interpreting Interactions. Sage Publications, Newbury Park (1991)Google Scholar
  4. Ajzen, I., Fishbein, M.: Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behavior. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs (1980)Google Scholar
  5. Bamberg, S.: Effects of implementation intentions on the actual performance of new environmentally friendly behaviours - results of two field experiments. J. Environ. Psychol. 22, 399–411 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bamberg, S., Ajzen, I., Schmidt, P.: Choice of travel mode in the theory of planned behavior: the roles of past behavior, habit, and reasoned action. Basic Appl. Soc. Psychol. 13, 175–188 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bamberg, S., Schmidt, P.: Regulating transport: behavioral changes in the field. J. Consumer Policy 22, 479–509 (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baron, R.M., Kenny, D.A.: The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 51(6), 1173–1182 (1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cronbach, L.: Statistical tests for moderator variables: flaws in analyses recently proposed. Psychol. Bull. 102, 414–417 (1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dahlstrand, U., Biel, A.: Pro-environmental habits propensity levels in behavioral change. J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 27, 588–602 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Danmarks Statistik.: Familiernes Bilrådighed 2001 (The Families’ Car Availability 2001). Danmarks Statistik, København (2001)Google Scholar
  12. Deci, E.L., Ryan, R.M.: Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. Plenum Press, New York (1985)Google Scholar
  13. Fazio, R.H.: Multiple processes by which attitudes guide behavior: the MODE model as an integrative framework. In: Zanna M.P. (eds.) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 23, pp. 75–109. Academic, New York (1990)Google Scholar
  14. Fujii, S., Kitamura, R.: What does a one-month free bus ticket do to habitual drivers? An experimental analysis of habit and attitude change. Transportation 30, 81–95 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gollwitzer, P.M., Brandstatter, V.: Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 73, 186–199 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Guagnano, G.A., Stern, P.C., Dietz, T.: Influences on attitude-behavior relationships. A natural experiment with curbside recycling. Environ. Behav. 27, 699–718 (1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gärling, T., Boe, O., Fujii, S.: Empirical tests of a model of determinants of script based driving choice. Transport. Res. F: Traffic Psychol. Behav. 4, 89–102 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. HT: Trafik holdningsundersøgelse (Traffic Attitude Survey). HT og Megafon Marketing, Copenhagen (1994)Google Scholar
  19. Hutton, R.B., Ahtola, O.T.: Consumer response to a five-year campaign to combat air pollution. J. Public Policy Mark. 10(1), 242–256 (1991)Google Scholar
  20. James, B.: TravelSmart—large-scale cost-effective mobility management. Experiences from Perth, Western Australia. Municipal Eng. 151, 39–48 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lahrmann, H., Lohmann-Hansen, A.: A Sustainable Transport System - From Cars to Bicycles via Incentive Motivation. Paper presented at the Civil Engineering and Environment, Vilnius Technical University Lithuania (1998)Google Scholar
  22. Landis, D., Triandis, H.C., Adamopoulos, J.: Habit and behavioral intentions as predictors of social behavior. J. Soc. Psychol. 106, 227–237 (1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Møller, B.T., Thøgersen, J.: Car-use habits: an obstacle to the use of public transportation? In: Jensen-Butler, C., Madsen, B., Nielsen, O.A., Sloth, B. (eds.) Road Pricing, The Economy, and The Environment, pp. 301–314. Springer (2008)Google Scholar
  24. Ölander, F., Thøgersen, J.: Understanding of consumer behaviour as a prerequisite for environmental protection. J. Consumer Policy 18, 317–357 (1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Østergaard, S., Schougaard, J.: Direkte markedsføring i HT (Direct marketing by HT). In: Lahrmann, H., Pedersen, L.H. (eds.), Trafikdage på Aalborg Universitet 1997, pp. 567–572. Transportrådet og Trafikforskningsgruppen, Aalborg Universitet, Aalborg (1997)Google Scholar
  26. Ouellette, J.A., Wood, W.: Habit and intention in everyday life: the multiple processes by which past behavior predicts future behavior. Psychol. Bull. 124, 54–74 (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ronis, D.L., Yates, J.F., Kirscht, J.P.: Attitudes, decisions, and habits as determinants of repeated behavior. In: Pratkanis, A.R., Breckler, S.J., Greenwald, A.G. (eds.), Attitude structure and function, pp. 213–239. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ (1989)Google Scholar
  28. Schlag, B., Teubel, U.: Public acceptability of transport pricing. IATSS Res. 21(2), 134–142 (1997)Google Scholar
  29. Steg, L., Vlek, C., Rooijers, T.: Private carmobility. Problem awareness, willingness to change, and policy evaluation: a national interview study among Dutch car users. In: Zwerver, S., van Rompaey, R.S.A.R., Kok, M.T.J., Berk, M.M. (eds.), Climate Change Research: Evaluation and Policy Implications, vol. B, pp. 1173–1176. Elsevier, Amsterdam (1995) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Tertoolen, G., Kreveld, D.V., Verstraten, B.: Psychological resistance against attempts to reduce private car use. Transport. Res.-A 32, 171–181 (1998)Google Scholar
  31. Tetraplan: (2004). O-takst på Svendborgbanen. Effekten af at gøre brugen gratis i januar 2004 (0 fare on the Svendborg line. The Effect of Making the Use Free in January 2004). København: TrafikministerietGoogle Scholar
  32. Thøgersen, J.: Forbrugeradfærdsundersøgelser med miljømæssigt sigte. Erfaringer og perspektiver (Consumer Behavior Studies in the Environment Area. Expericences and Perspectives). (Arbejdsrapport No. 1). Copenhagen: Miljøstyrelsen (1995)Google Scholar
  33. Thøgersen, J.: Understanding repetitive travel mode choices in a stable context: a panel study approach. Transport. Res. A: Policy Practice 40, 621–638 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Thøgersen, J.: Social marketing of alternative transportation modes. In: Gärling, T., Steg, L. (eds.), Threats to the Quality of Urban Life from Car Traffic: Problems, Causes, and Solutions, pp. 367–382. Elsevier, Oxford (2007)Google Scholar
  35. Triandis, H.C.: Interpersonal Behavior. Books/Cole, Monterey (1977)Google Scholar
  36. Van Vugt, M., Van Lange, P.A.M., Meertens, R.M., Joireman, J.A.: How a structural solution to a real-world social dilemma failed: a field experiment on the first carpool lane in Europe. Soc. Psychol. Quart. 59, 364–374 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Verplanken, B., Aarts, H.: Habit, attitude, and planned behaviour: is habit an empty construct or an interesting case of goal-directed automaticity? Eur. Rev. Soc. Psychol. 10, 101–134 (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Verplanken, B., Aarts, H., Knippenberg, A.v., Knippenberg, C.v.: Attitude versus general habit: antecedents of travel mode choice. J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 24, 285–300 (1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Verplanken, B., Aarts, H., Knippenberg, A.v., Moonen, A.: Habit versus planned behavior: a field experiment. Brit. J. Soc. Psychol. 37, 111–128 (1998)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Aarhus School of BusinessUniversity of AarhusAarhus VDenmark

Personalised recommendations