Sustainable commuting incentivisation: Learnings from across the globe
By Nicola Frankland, Consultant Commutologist
Understanding what impacts travel behaviours is the key to unlocking sustainable commuting opportunities in your workforce. As commuters, how we get from A to B is impacted by multiple factors; some will be positive, such as convenience or perceived health benefits. Others will be negative, such as rising costs or social pressure.
Forward-looking employers seeking to reduce their Scope 3 commuter emissions should leverage these drivers of behaviour to encourage modal shift to greener commuting options.
Incentivisation and gamification
Incentivisation taps into basic human psychology and behaviour. People respond to rewards and consequences that influence their decisions and actions. When used effectively, this can drive change at scale.
The Netherlands is famed for its pioneering commuting policies and initiatives. In North Brabant, participants were given a monetary incentive for every kilometre they rode an e-bike. Their journeys were monitored through a smartphone app that tracks e-cycling behaviour, with participants earning €0.15 per km in peak times and €0.08 per km in off-peak times, with the ability to earn a maximum of €1000. Car use dropped from 62% to 28%, and conventional bike use dropped from 33% to 1%, demonstrating the power of financial incentives on travel behaviours.
A similar experiment was conducted in the Czech Republic. In this trial, cyclists used a smartphone app with gamification features like points, badges, leaderboards, and challenges. Participants were offered two types of rewards: a flat-rate payment of CZK 1 for each kilometre ridden, with a cap at CZK 500 (roughly £18), or a decreasing block rate that ranged from CZK 3 per kilometre for the first 1 to 100 kilometres, down to CZK 0.2 per kilometre for distances between 401 and 500 kilometres, capped at CZK 67 (approximately £24). The most successful approach was found to be the combination of smart gamification and flat-rate rewards, resulting in nearly doubling the number of people who chose to cycle for their daily commute.
Car use dropped from 62% to 28%, and conventional bike use dropped from 33% to 1%, demonstrating the power of financial incentives on travel behaviours.
BetterPoints is a positive behaviour change app that combines technology and data to motivate and measure mobility behaviour change. In Bologna, Italy, the BetterPoints app was used, which included gamification and incentives such as points that could be converted to discounts or monetary vouchers. 89% of car users engaged in some behaviour change towards active or sustainable travel. 47% of those users kept it up, showing some form of long-term behaviour change.
It’s important to note that the effectiveness of incentivisation can vary depending on the individual, the context, and the specific incentives used. A study measuring commuting behaviour change in the Netherlands rewarded participants each day if they avoided driving during the morning rush hour. Rewards were either monetary or credit that could be built towards a smartphone. During the study, the reward effectively motivated people to avoid driving to work during rush hour. However, after the study was completed, avoidance dropped, and most commuters returned to their previous travel patterns.
Free and subsidised public transport
Public transport, such as buses and trains, is generally more energy-efficient on a per-passenger basis compared to single occupancy vehicle commutes. They can carry a larger number of passengers at once, reducing the overall energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions per person.
Incentives should be carefully designed to avoid unintended consequences or behaviours undermining your intended goal – in this case, increasing public transport usage. Holistic consideration of your organisation’s mobility policies can avoid this risk. An American study comparing the impact of different commuting initiatives reveals why this is important when seeking to maximise the environmental value of sustainable travel programmes.
The study, based in Atlanta, compared the effects of providing free or subsidised public transport fares and free or subsidised employee parking on commuters’ travel choices. The study found that employees with access to free or subsidised public transport fares were 156% more inclined to use public transportation than those without. Employees who received free or subsidised parking were 71% less likely to choose public transport as their commuting option.
Not all incentive programmes are created equally. In Tallinn, Estonia, a fare-free network was implemented, which increased public transport use from 55% to 63%, successfully decreasing car use from 31% to 28%. A similar initiative was launched in the German region of Hesse, offering free public transport for public sector employees from 2015 to 2019. However, this intervention did not result in a significant change in car use.
These contrasting results reveal the efficacy of incentives may vary depending on the specific context and the target audience. Understanding employee commuting sentiment and sustainable commuting barriers and motivations through comprehensive travel surveys can unlock valuable insights to help the effective design and implementation of sustainable commuting initiatives.
Workplace travel plans
Workplace travel plans are strategic programmes employers develop to encourage and support employees in adopting more sustainable commuting practices. These plans aim to reduce the environmental and social impacts of commuting, alleviate traffic congestion, and improve the overall wellbeing of employees.
A pilot in Australia included a range of strategies, such as providing information on travel options, promotional activities, and facility improvements. They also considered a range of incentives to encourage people to engage with alternative transportation modes. These plans resulted in a 5% reduction in individual car commuting, a positive outcome for reducing the environmental and traffic-related impacts of single-occupancy vehicle use. Additionally, for every Australian dollar spent on these plans, there was a return of $4.50 in commuting benefits, indicating cost-effectiveness.
In Tallinn, Estonia, a fare-free network was implemented, which increased public transport use from 55% to 63%, successfully decreasing car use from 31% to 28%. A similar initiative was launched in the German region of Hesse, offering free public transport for public sector employees from 2015 to 2019. However, this intervention did not result in a significant change in car use.
The power of these workplace travel plan incentives was tested in a study of two neighbouring Perth hospitals. The first hospital had disincentives to discourage driving, including parking restrictions and price increases, and incentives to encourage sustainable travel, including an organised car-share community. The second hospital only had incentives to encourage sustainable travel.
The hospital that operated incentives and disincentives experienced:
• 42% decrease in driving alone
• 8% increase in lift sharing
• 26% increase in use of public transport
• 10% increase in active travel.
The hospital with only incentives for sustainable travel experienced:
• 5% decrease in driving alone
• 7% increase in lift sharing
• 3% increase in use of public transport
• 1% increase in active travel.
This study illustrates the efficacy of combining incentives and disincentives to promote sustainable commuting. The hospital that employed a comprehensive approach achieved more significant changes. These findings highlight the importance of a well-rounded strategy to reduce single-occupancy car use and encourage greener commuting options in your workforce.
Making incentivisation work
As we’ve seen from sustainable-travel-incentive studies from across the globe, incentives can effectively change travel behaviour. However, the type of incentive and the context in which it is used can significantly impact its success.
Combining gamification, monetary incentives and disincentives for driving alone is an effective way to drive sustainable travel behaviour. These studies also show that while we’ve seen that reward influences behaviour, behaviour change is impacted by additional factors, including an individual’s education, scheduling, habitual behaviour, caring responsibilities, attitudes, and travel information availability. Employers must consider this when creating initiatives intending to influence commuting behaviours.
Motivation theories suggest that if intrinsic motivation kicks in, i.e., the commuter’s internal driving force, behaviour change is more likely to be sustained long term. Personal commuting habits become entrenched, making it harder to change people’s travel behaviour. Therefore, it is important to consider a combination of incentives, information, and contextual factors to promote sustainable travel behaviour.
As we’ve seen from sustainable travel incentive studies from across the globe, incentives can effectively change travel behaviour. However, the type of incentive and the context in which it is used can significantly impact its success.
Mobilityways’ Commutologists can offer valuable insights into the mobility landscapes that affect your organisation. With decades of sustainable commuting knowledge, they are well-equipped to recommend the most effective mix of incentives and disincentives tailored to steer a significant shift in commuting patterns within your organisation.
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