Chris Bradshaw, Canada. Response to UK House of Lords Committee Enquiry into Behaviour Change in Transport

Call for Evidence: Behaviour Change – Travel-Mode Choice Interventions to Reduce Car Use in Towns and Cities

I am Chris Bradshaw, retired municipal specialist in public consultation and retired carsharing entrepreneur (www.vrtucar.com), who stays active through being vice-chair of the Ottawa Seniors Transportation Committee, in Canada’s Capital. My wife and I live ‘car-lite.’ [Contacts: hearth@ties.ottawa.on.ca, or 613-230-4566; website: http://www.hearthhealth.wordpress.com] Here are my responses to your very apt questions:

a. what are the most influential drivers of behaviour affecting an individual’s choice of mode of travel;

I believe the most important driver is the kind of car access that exists. Today, there is little choice but to own a car that one then drives as needed and, equally importantly, as desired. Ownership is full of emotional ‘baggage’ as well as costs that are ‘sunk’ or fixed. These conspire to incent owners to use their cars excessively, beyond absolute needs, and even to manipulate their life situation to cause them to drive ever more frequently, farther, and faster. The competitive nature of roadways means they also drive more frantically.

The second most important driver is the expectation that the only kind of car access is that which the person needing to reach a destination has to drive himself; being a passenger is considered by auto companies and so many other social leaders as being second-class. This forces those who can’t drive at all into a second-class status with regard to transportation and forces society to tolerate many drivers who do not meet – at times or all the time – reasonable standards of care and control of their vehicle.

These two drivers result in making the automobile a very inefficient means of transportation (vehicles are parked 85% of the time; and when used are mostly empty and very often in congestion). Why widen roads for such inefficiency?

b. what is the role of infrastructure in encouraging and facilitating changes in travel-mode choice;

There is a dread by society any time that any demand for driving this underutilized device might not be met. Rather than build more facilities for the mode that is the most road-hoggish, it would be better to invest in infrastructure that would focus clearly on major jumps in efficiency of the rolling fleet. That would be: a) better facilities for walking and cycling, b) a transit focus on just the high-density and future high-density corridors, and c) recognition that cars should be used in shared fashion for other longer in-city trips, by investing in the information technology to track vehicles, the seats and cargo areas within them, and the intentions of those – both drivers and riders – making trips requiring cars.

That last one would also include, if necessary during introductory periods, government investing in the shared-vehicle fleet where no entrepreneurs have yet set up shop.

c. what are the latest developments in the evidence-base in relation to changing travel-mode choice and the implications of those developments for policy;

The car-sharing industry has shown the eagerness of especially younger people to purchase car-access rather than cars. They ‘get it.’ See Nelson-Nygaard study for TCRP (US) and the work of Susan Shaheen at the U. of California at Berkeley. Growth in this sector is enhanced by limited local municipal government support (e.g., Arlington VA, USA) for on-street parking of shared vehicles.

d. what are the most appropriate type and level of interventions to change travel-mode choice;

Establish a transportation bill of rights recognizing the rights of both those who are not allowed to drive and the right of city residents to quiet, clean air, safe (from collisions) streets, and convivial public places (enough “eyes on the street” that gives truth to the saying, “feet follow fabric). Second, require all car manufacturers who sells in the UK, to ensure their cars are also available in other access methodologies: car-sharing, taxis, rental, and ridesharing at levels commensurate with their sales. With IT, these different services will probably merge.

Government should also make streets safer through a fair-outcome law that removes the driver’s license of any driver involved in a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist – regardless of legal blame – such that the driver doesn’t get his privilege-to-drive restored until the other party regains their ability to walk/cycle (the latter’s death would relegate the driver to a perpetual status of ‘rider,’ which, because of the other interventions, will be far less punitive).

e. who are the most effective agents for the delivery of behaviour interventions to change travel-mode choice;

Citizens through neighbourhood associations need to drive this by bringing together those who not only want less car traffic on their streets, but more destinations for goods and services near-at-hand. The experience of using shared cars (driving or riding) is to naturally favour this higher-density/mix-use city and town setting for their lives, to remove the ‘schizophrenia’ or the same people saying slow the traffic one minute and speed it up the next.

f. how do current behaviour change interventions seek to change travel-mode choice and what use is made of available scientific evidence;

Too much emphasis is made on promoting transit, walking, or cycling in isolation from each other. Too much focus is also on improving these modes to match what a car provides, rather than taking from the car some of its advantages, especially its speed and its free-ride on parking and road-use, as well as favouritism in property taxes for sprawlish housing and commerce.

Carsharing is ignored because it is rarely used for commuting, which is true. But carsharing represents a different approach: reducing car-ownership, rather than the use of personal cars (which is growing because of not only ownership’s high fixed costs, but the staggering number of jobs at worksites with free parking and lacking noon-hour conveniences and access to shared cars). Carsharing attends to the non-commute trips that, in its absence, leaves most households that avoid car-use for commuting still with the need to own one.

Also, the car industry distracts governments away from reduced-car-ownership initiatives through support of technology improvements to privately-owned cars, such as vehicle size, motor efficiency, and fuel sources. But these approaches have such a long history that there is few benefits left to be realized, and they ignore: a) congestions, b) sprawl, c) transportation inequity, d) health outcomes (trauma, obesity, and stress), and e) reduced economic competitiveness due to loss of the conviviality of public and semi-public spaces (cf. Whyte, WH City: Rediscovering the Centre; Jacobs, J Death & Life of Great Am. Cities; and Oldenberg, R The Great Good Place).

g. are current policy interventions addressing both psychological and environmental barriers to change;

The ‘elephant in the room” is car-ownership. It – along with the mythology its manufacturers spin to sell cars – drives, if I can use that term, people to do strange, anti-social, inefficient, dangerous things. The recent focus on finding the “reward centre” in the brain is a worthy task, as I think it will find that driving and owning cars has become a fertile source of rewards: taking risks, distraction from problems, small indulgences, touching greatness, mood alteration, and feeling power over others.

h. are policy interventions appropriately designed and evaluated;

I don’t believe any are ‘ready for prime time’ because they dance around the deeper relationship people are coached to have with cars.

i. what lessons have been learnt and applied as a result of the evaluation of policy; and

Although there is much progress needed, I find the most impressive person in this field to be Robert Cervero, at the University of California at Berkeley. I have followed his work since we met in Boulder Colorado at a conference we both addressed. I would also add Donald Shoup and his ideas on the role of parking policy and car-ownership.

j. what lessons can be learnt from interventions employed in other countries.

I am waiting for developing countries – China, India, Indonesia – all of who have fast-growing, dense cities and cultures with a stronger heritage of sharing – to be taking leadership in this approach. But they know that the lust for car-ownership is a major driver of their ‘economies,’ even though I believe it will be their undoing.

In conclusion: Your committee must be commended for shining a light into this most important area for innovation. The automobile, if it’s role isn’t recast significantly, might get overthrown like the insensitive and greedy tyrants facing revolts in the middle east today.

# # #

About the author:

Chris Bradshaw retired from city & regional planning in 1996, and co-founded Ottawa’s carsharing company, Vrtucar in 2000. He has been an advocate for walking and pedestrian rights for 30 years. In retirement, he is championing a society-wide transition to a second-generation version of carsharing (integrating car-sharing, taxis, ridesharing, car-rental, and delivery). He lives ‘car-lite’ in downtown Ottawa with his wife of 40 years. This paper is taken from a talk he delivered to the Canadian chapter of the Club of Rome on 10 March 2010 in Ottawa Canada.

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