Preparing Potential

Early on in my search for case studies of how people adapt to transport disruption during to severe weather events, I realised that my research project is as much about the potential for resilient travel behaviour change as it is about revealed travel behaviour change.

Some people take evasive action to avoid risk on the roads or rails, others do not. That’s revealed behaviour. But whether travellers’ reactions to storms, snow, wind and floods is due to conscious choice or pre-existing constraint, that’s about their potential.

Therefore, my project was as much about identifying the potential to encourage and support resilient travel behaviour change in response to transport disruption during severe weather as it was about describing behaviours already prevalent.

Then, at a conference last week, I learned that there are academic terms and concepts to describe this potential: capability and motility and eudaemonic wellbeing – at which point I’ve probably already lost most reading this blog. But let me explain.

Whereas transport planners usually view travel behaviour in terms of choices made because of the utility (cost, time, convenience, comfort) of transport options, this perspective looks at choices in terms of whether the traveller has the capability to make that choice, a question that considers the individual’s physical and mental abilities or constraints, their skills in navigation, their disposition to travel, their perceptions of safety and inclusion (or not).

The traditional approach then leads to planning for mobility, mainly by trying to increase modal choice, encourage modal shift, offer more services, or build more infrastructure. Motility, meanwhile, tries to take account of all the resources that make access choices possible, not just the transport ones. Therefore, there is more consideration of land use as well as transport, of past experiences and transport history, as well as present travel patterns, of levels of confidence as well as levels of competence.

As a result, a narrow focus on the ‘hedonic’ wellbeing of travellers – whether they have been helped to move quickly and reliably from A to B by whichever mode – is replaced by a broad mission of helping travellers fulfil their potential or achieve greater ‘eudaemonic wellbeing’ through inclusive motility.

All of this fits neatly with the goal of successful adaptation to increasingly extreme weather and the transport disruption it causes. For although infrastructure and services can be adapted and made more resilient, they are unlikely to be so well adapted as to maintain a high level of reliability or speed during severe weather events. Thus, measures of utility, mobility, and hedonic wellbeing are all likely to fall short.

Meanwhile, studies have demonstrated that people adapt better if they have experience with disruption, are familiar with additional accessibility choices (including online access), and if they have more time to adapt (e.g. because they have more warning or disruption is longer term). In other words, people respond more resiliently if they can boast of greater access capabilities, more motility, and more time to achieve their potential. Which, if they do, would probably make them feel more eudaemonic well-being even when things aren’t going to plan, if for no other reason than that they have avoided getting stuck on a motorway or a train platform for hours.

Conclusion? My project is about identifying who changes their travel behaviour during severe weather and how they avoid risk. But it is also about translating those evidenced behaviours into ideas for policies and measures which prepare more people and groups for severe weather, increase their potential to respond resiliently, and give them greater capability, motility, and eudemonic wellbeing.