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

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. We are grateful to Hovedstadens Udviklingsråd, HUR, for providing the free month travel cards.

  2. Cf., for instance, the Australian TravelSmart campaign, which bundles a free travel card for a month with thorough and customized information about public transport and which reserves this offer to commuters who do not currently use public transport, but who expresses an interest in doing so in the future (see James 2002; Thøgersen 2007).

  3. The data was collected by TNS Gallup.

  4. Of the households in the Copenhagen area, 38% have a car (Danmarks Statistik 2001).

  5. Due to 30 experimental subjects being excluded, the proportions in the final sample became 31%/69%. The excluded subjects did not differ significantly (the 5% level) from included subjects on any of the target variables in the first wave.

  6. Due to a mixture of panel attrition and missing values, the effective sample for this calculation was reduced from 322 to 264.

  7. Also, a hierarchical regression analysis where only the direct effects are included in step 1 and the interaction term is added in step 2 produces a statistically significant change in R 2 from step 1 to step 2 (R 2−change = 0.07, F-change (1 d.f.) = 29.789, < 0.001).

  8. The calculation based on centered variables produces the correct t-values for direct as well as interaction effects. However, in order to obtain the correct standardized coefficients for interaction terms, the interaction terms need to be calculated from standardized input variables (Aiken and West 1991), which we did in all the reported calculations.

  9. In the next step we will investigate whether it is really the free travel card that is responsible for this effect.

  10. Because customized timetables were only given to participants with no intentions to commute by public transport, it is not possible to analyze the impact of this intervention on the intention–behaviour relationship.

  11. Control subjects with no baseline intentions were excluded from this analysis because the planning exercise was only given to experimental subjects expressing intentions.

  12. In practices, receivers of a promotion travel card would be asked to fill out a form with personal details. This form could sensibly contain a short questionnaire about routes that the person plan to take from home to work and when, where and with which lines he or she would commute by public transport next time, among other things.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Thøgersen, J., Møller, B. Breaking car use habits: The effectiveness of a free one-month travelcard. Transportation 35, 329–345 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11116-008-9160-1

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Keywords

  • Car use habits
  • Public transport
  • Economic incentive
  • Field experiment