Did Smarter Choices programmes make us smarter? Did personalised travel planning change personal travel behaviour? Did pilots, challenges, and temporary designations leave a lasting impression? These were the sort of questions my fellow transport professional @jamesgleave1 was asking in his blog of mid-March. His answer was, over time, a qualified not quite, a methodologically minimal.
One of the reasons he gave for his scepticism included the impossibility of disentangling any results from other changes to the accessibility offer. One of the reasons for moderating his response was the valuable discovery of links between travel behaviour choices and changes in other aspects of life, even if the presence of such links further diminished the attribution of impacts to Smarter Choices programmes themselves. Yet this got me thinking that if the debate around Smarter Choices is due to an inability to isolate its impacts, especially longer term, maybe we should start embracing its interactions. Surely Smarter Choices can build on existing trends, encourage any seeds of sustainability to grow without trying to plant them in the first place.
More people are living in cities with access to frequent public transport. Younger generational cohorts are delaying licence holding and car ownership, and are making fewer trips per capita. Surely these are trends on which we could build a Smarter Choices extension, focusing our information and incentives on younger, more urban audiences. Indeed, if younger people are spending their precious disposable income on devices instead of driving, all the more reason to put all that information and those incentives into mobile apps that integrate accessibility planning (including remote and virtual options!), real time information and alerts, fitness tracking, gamification… and perhaps booking and payment as well. The latter brings us to Mobility as a Service, which could be the next Smarter Choices, and indeed, most of the list in the last sentence is already available in one form or another, but is it integrated? Is it being developed to achieve Smarter Future Choices?
Another trend is that more and more jobs and occupations are becoming temporally and spatially independent from traditional workplaces, and the links between commuting distances or cost and residential location choice is weakening. So from travel planning to journey planning, we need to incorporate the geography of ICT supply and demand, and build on the ever-increasing flexibility of the modern economy and the potential for improving resilience that comes from such flexibility. In other words, there are ever more people working from home 1-2 days per week, so transport planners should nourish the trend. Surely Smarter Future Choices are being made if the proportion of car commuters who work from home once a week increases by 20%. Such a target would be easier to achieve than a 20% switch of car commuters to a sustainable mode of travel to work. In fact, previous rounds of Smarter Choices programmes may well have had such an impact, but this trend is poorly monitored by long-term surveys. Tracking this flexibility will be key to judging the success of such Smarter Future Choices.
Finally, Smarter Future Choices could offer daily flexibility via the technology at which younger generations are so adept, and increase awareness of the options urban places can offer. If done properly, this approach could result in so much more than a one-off intervention. It could result in the ability of travellers to decide daily what will not only be their most sustainable option, but also their most convenient, resilient, and productive option, no matter the day of the week, time of the day, weather or season – the smartest option is theirs to take.