How to decelerate the solo car?

What emotions and feelings make us prefer the automobile, even when this solution is not the most relevant? And how can we short-circuit them in favor of modes of transport that are more respectful of our atmosphere?

” I like to drive. I would not part with my vehicle even if a bus passed by my house every two minutes. “

“If I left my vehicle, my entourage would judge me. “

These are two of the dozens of testimonials from “self-dependent” drivers collected in 2019 during the”Perceptions and sustainable mobility” survey produced by Anne-Sophie Gousse-Lessard, associate professor at the Institute of Environmental Sciences at UQAM, and Jérôme Laviolette, doctoral student at the Mobility Chair at Polytechnique Montréal. Both active members of Chantier Auto-Solo – a creation of the NPO Jalon Montreal to promote innovation in sustainable mobility – they studied the psychosocial determinants of Montrealers’ attachment to the car.

Driving pleasure, social status and a feeling of freedom

“Contrary to popular belief, our choices of modes of transport are not simply motivated by their instrumental or utilitarian aspects,” summarizes Professor Gousse-Lessard. The pleasure of driving, social status and the feeling of freedom also dictate our choices. It will therefore be impossible to reduce “autosolism” if public policies do not take these affective and social factors into account, conclude the authors of this study, commissioned by the Commission on transport and public works of the City of Montreal.

Because replacing all gasoline vehicles with electric cars will not solve all the problems associated with road transport, such as congestion or the financing and maintenance of road infrastructure. We must also reduce the number of vehicles on the roads. However, the trend is not in this direction. Thus, between 2000 and 2018, 144,250 new passenger vehicles were registered in Montreal, an increase of 23%. During the same period, the adult population only increased by 11.5%.

How to go about reducing the use of solo cars, whether electric or gasoline? Part of the answer lies in “psychographic segmentation”. In short, drivers are grouped together according to their beliefs (in relation to their influence and responsibility), their attitudes (about the environment) and their perceptions (about their capacity for change or with regard to others), rather than by age, gender, income or region. We can thus target interventions for each of the segments, rather than developing a single message which will ultimately reach only a minority.

We are not dependent on the car in the same way, nor with the same intensity or for the same reasons, recalls Anne-Sophie Gousse-Lessard. We do not all believe with the same fervor that our individual gesture of reducing solo driving has an impact on the climate crisis. And what one part of the population perceives as an addiction is seen by the other as a need. “Our lifestyle choices define our choice of mode of transportation,” adds Jérôme Laviolette. Living in a neighborhood that is poorly served by public transport conditions our use of the car. By settling there, we choose to need a vehicle. “

Take advantage of habit changes

Moving into your first home or moving out are some of the times in life when there are changes in our habits. We lose our bearings. “We can take advantage of these moments to also induce behavioral changes,” points out Professor Gousse-Lessard. The cities of Utrecht, Germany, and Almada, Portugal, for example, present their new citizens with mobility solutions other than the car (walking, cycling, public transport) and offer them tickets. Almada does the same to inform parents when their child enters school. Ditto in Munich when the child enters secondary school and with students when they start university.

To change a habit, you have to call on the citizen at the right time and accompany them from the transition to the adoption of the new behavior. German psychologist and researcher Sebastian Bamberg has conducted numerous studies related to mobility. His most famous is the abandonment of the solo car in Berlin. Citizens first received information by mail. Then they were the subject of two personalized calls, where their interlocutor had to identify their resistance to a change in their mobility habits in order to deconstruct their barriers. This experience has shown that individual support leads to a significant reduction in automobile use in favor of collective transport. While sticking to the distribution of general information on sustainable mobility solutions results in a marginal migration rate. Two of the recommendations of the report “Making the transition to sustainable mobility”, tabled in November 2020, are also inspired by experiences such as that of Berlin.

The Committee on Transport and Public Works therefore recommends that the City of Montreal “design targeted messages according to the various validated profiles of mobility habits of the Montreal population”. And “to proactively support the Montreal population and employers in the process of change towards sustainable mobility, by anticipating support needs, developing the appropriate tools and encouraging teleworking”.

We choose our mode of transport out of habit, but also by trusting our perceptions. “We have to work on two fronts: make the solo car less attractive and other modes of transport more attractive,” says Jérôme Laviolette. The two researchers thus recommend deconstructing erroneous perceptions, by getting individuals to list the disadvantages of the automobile, then by noting in a logbook the real time of journeys. “The motorist who arrives late for an appointment blames the traffic,” notes Jérôme Laviolette. He must be made aware that, in this case, his delay is rather a bad choice of means of transport. ”

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