Remember to Reconsider

Happy Spring! Time to make a New Year’s resolution!

What? A New Year’s resolution in March? Not January?

If you ask me that question, I would ask you one of my own: Why January? Spring is a much more natural time to make a New Year’s resolution. Who is honestly going to keep a commitment to eat less or exercise more in the middle of the winter? Cold, dark days make you want to hibernate, not flex and build the muscle of your willpower. No one is going to see your lack of shape under three layers of clothing. You’ve already compromised your natural desires if you’ve gotten out from under the duvet hours before the sun rises. Is it fair to deny yourself the comfort of a heated car seat on the way to work?

No, it’s silly to think that people will reconsider their travel choices in the middle of winter. But in the spring, when people sense summer is on the way, perhaps it is time for a New Year’s resolution to walk, cycle or take the bus. But are a few days of spring sunshine enough to remind people to reconsider?

Research from fields as diverse as retail, transport and social campaigning demonstrates that people reconsider their options for grocery shopping, travel and other lifestyle choices at the transitions between life stages. When people move house, change jobs, get married, have a baby or their kids start school; those people usually recognise that other parts of their life might have to change. Families discuss how they will form new routines, habits and loyalties. It’s a great time to make sure they have the information and assistance they need to make choices that will offer them and their communities more benefits.

Targeting people in transition is not enough to change travel behaviour trends in a whole population. Most of us don’t have big announcements to make to our friends and family every year. Yet we all experience the change of season, most with a similar anticipation of new beginnings. Or at least new leaves on the trees and more time in the evenings before we have to turn the lights on and draw the curtains. So how can budding flowers nudge new habits?

Enter personalised travel planning (PTP). The theory is that if you send appropriately trained advisors to speak with people face to face, it will remind them to reconsider their travel choices. If you then give them information about routes and infrastructure and fares, they realise they have options. If you give them a few goodies to try something different, some will actually try those options. Even better if you have new services and facilities to offer. Then, a fraction of those who try something new will actually change what they do permanently. Or until they hit a new life stage anyway – a bit of travel advice doesn’t claim to be more life-changing than a new baby!

That’s the theory anyway. The practice is notoriously difficult to measure. Change takes time, monitoring takes money and attribution is often statistically insignificant. The results of after surveys, a mere 6 or 12 months later are often inconclusive.

More compelling is the qualitative research, the interview, the focus groups. And these all indicate that whilst we still cannot be sure if personalised travel planning has made people change their behaviour, it has certainly reminded them to reconsider, where they may not have otherwise done so. As an added bonus, it has made them feel more engaged in and by their community, council or workplace. Now if we can just somehow more permanently associate the PTP-engendered reminder with something as constant as the lengthening of spring days and as ubiquitous as the proliferation of daffodils, reminders could well become resolutions.

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