Research from our fellows

January 24, 2022

Behaviour Change

Professor John Whitelegg was appointed FIT Senior Fellow in 2020.

Road safety
John Whitelegg

Source: and with thanks to Skedgo for permission to use this diagram

Behavioural change is central to achieving net zero carbon by 2030. It requires huge upgrades to the alternatives to the car and a new approach to the promotion of change.

Transport decarbonisation will not be achieved without transforming the choice landscape. This means a significant upgrade of walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure so that all urban and rural geographies deliver world best alternatives to the car:

1. Cancel all road building and spend the £34 billion (the England total) on alternatives to cars
2. Car free towns and cities on the Oslo model
3. Traffic–free bike paths at least as good as those in the Netherlands and Copenhagen
4. Totally free public transport for all users implemented at the same time as an upgrade to Swiss standards of rural public transport and Austrian/ German standards of urban public transport (e.g. Vienna and Freiburg)
5. Adopt the total 20mph speed limit on all roads and streets where pedestrians, bikes and vehicles mix
6. Car-free housing following the examples of Vauban and Rieselfeld in Freiburg in South Germany.

These measures and interventions are well known and supported by evidence but are absent in the UK. They are discussed in detail in the South Shropshire Climate Action plan (Note 1) and in Whitelegg (2015).

Also absent in the UK is a detailed appreciation of the role of behavioural change. Citizens will change travel choices away from the car to walking, cycling and public transport when these changes are put in place in all localities. Citizens are well aware of defects and poor quality alternatives to the car and will not change unless they see widespread improvements. When it is obvious that these transformational improvements are being delivered there is a need to embrace methodologies that promote changes in behaviour (Haq, Cinderby, Owen and Whitelegg, 2008).

Active measures to support behavioural change are just as important as physical changes on the ground but change in long-established habits and patterns is much more likely with a “nudge” (Thaler and Sunstein, 2009).

Behavioural change interventions (nudges) are available, low cost and well documented in the sustainable transport literature. They are not a substitute for substantial improvements in the quality and quantity of alternatives to the car but together with those improvements we can deliver net zero transport carbon by 2030. The interventions include:

1. Personalised Journey Planning (PJP)
2. Workplace, residential and school travel plans to deliver modal shift from cars to the alternatives to the car in those contexts
3. Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

1. Personalised Journey Planning (PJP)

The York “Intelligent Travel” project was a DfT funded project carried out by the Stockholm Environment Institute, the City of York Council and bus companies operating in York (Haq et al, 2004):

“Intelligent Travel aimed to examine the potential for changing travel behaviour by reducing car use and encouraging walking, cycling and public transport use which promote health, fitness and a better environment. It tested personalised travel planning on a random sample of 5,701 households living in three wards of the City of York, using before and after questionnaire surveys to measure the effect on personal travel behaviour. The Intelligent Travel interventions produced a 16 percentage point reduction in car trips. This is the overall result for all project areas. The change over the same time period in the non-intervention group was a 5 per cent increase in car trips. Intelligent Travel has converted a potential 5-percentage point increase in car trips into a 16-percentage point reduction.”

2. Travel plans are well documented e.g. Cairns et al (2004) and can reduce car use by significant amounts e.g. workplace travel plans

“Taken overall, the 20 organisations had reduced the number of cars driven to work by 14 for every 100 staff. This represented an average reduction of 18% in the proportion of commuter journeys being made as a car driver. This is the average – the medians were similar, with a median reduction of at least 12 cars per 100 staff, and a median percentage reduction of at least 15%, showing that even after giving less emphasis to the few extreme cases, organisations were typically achieving sizeable cuts in car use.”

Similar results can be seen in school travel plans (Cairns et al, 2010). Residential travel plans are not as well developed as workplace and school travel plans.

3. Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

MaaS is a completely new approach to assisting users to make the best possible transport choices for any journey based on high quality information on what is available, cost, time and linked to very easy to use transport offers e.g. public transport tickets, bike (standard and electric) hire, car share, information on cycle routes and the cost and time associated with all the options compared with the car trip. It uses smart phones and links to providers of transport services in a “one stop” system.

It is in place in several European locations e.g. Helsinki and Stockholm.

UbiGo is the first service in Sweden to offer the whole multimodality package under a MaaS mobile application. Concretely, it means that citizens will have the opportunity to have access to public transport, car rental and car sharing, taxi and bikes, depending on their needs and only with one single monthly subscription.

It is also planned for the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). The WMCA’s ‘2026 Delivery Plan for Transport’ provides a clear view of what transport initiatives and schemes the WMCA will deliver by 2026 – in line with “Movement for Growth”- the West Midlands Strategic Transport Plan. MaaS forms a clear game changing part of the plan. Developing MaaS and facilitating a commercial exploitation potentially allows WMCA to address a number of significant challenges the West Midlands are facing from network resilience and supports the development of the West Midlands as a centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. Whim, the MaaS App provided by MaaS Global in the West Midlands, provides access to train, tram, bus, taxi, cycle hire, car hire and parking. For Consumers Whim provides a personalised service which is easy to use. Whim’s goal is to offer personalised packages based on a service offering and not on a mix of ticketing products, for example getting you to and from work on time. This gives Whim customers the best price for that service and the most efficient use of their time. Whim removes the hassle of having to piece together all the elements of you journey, giving easy access to all transport modes through a simple and convenient payment.


1. We need world-best upgrades in the quality and quantity of alternatives to the car trip
2. The design and implementation of behavioural change programmes will be a high priority and higher than any measures or interventions that encourage car use
3. We need a funding model that requires all councils to fund travel plans (workplace, school and residential) and grant planning permission for developments only if the development is directly linked to reductions in car trips and large increases in walking, cycling and public transport. Travel plans will contain ambitious targets for reducing car trips and will be monitored
4. We need MaaS projects in every local authority area, fully funded, implemented by all principal councils and supported by DfT
5. The funding for 1-3 will be provided by the cancellation of all road building schemes and the reallocation of those funds to 1-3
6. Local authorities will be required to embrace detailed behavioural change methodologies and interventions and link those projects to parallel measures and interventions that will “nudge” choices away from cars and towards the alternatives to cars. The parallel measures will include workplace parking levies and road user charging regimes with the income retained by the local authority responsible for highways and transport and ring fenced to support behavioural change away from the car.


Cairns S, Sloman L, Newson C, Anable J, Kirkbride A & Goodwin P (2004) Workplace ‘Smarter Choices – Changing the Way We Travel’ Smarter Choices – Changing the way we travel

Cairns, S et al (2010) Making school travel plans work: experience from English case studies. Transport for Quality of Life

Haq, G et al (2004) Intelligent Travel Personalised Travel Planning in the City of York

Haq, G, Cinderby, S and Owen, A Whitelegg, J (2008) The use of personalised social marketing to foster voluntary behavioural change for sustainable travel and lifestyles, Local Environment, 13,7.

Thaler, R and Sunstein, C (2009) Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Penguin

Whitelegg, J (2015) Mobility: A New Urban Design and Transport Planning Philosophy for a Sustainable Future

Note 1

The South Shropshire net zero carbon by 2030 report (pages 98-131) lists all the interventions backed by evidence that will reduce transport carbon by 48% by 2030.

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