Gridlock, congestion, commuting, the cost of living, sedentary lifestyles, heart disease and obesity are some of the biggest issues facing our Governments, Councils and public sector agencies. All of these issues are exacerbated by our dependence on the car.

Many people rely on the car for everything. To get to work, to drop children at school, to get to the shops, to get to medical appointments, to participate in kids’ sports, to get to social events and to visit family and friends.

In Australia, more than 80 percent of all trips are made by car. It’s similar elsewhere. New Zealanders are overly dependent on cars for even very short distances. 83 percent of trips less than 2km in NZ are made by car.

Across the globe Governments, Councils, policy makers, planners and practitioners are preparing policies, strategies and action plans to get people out of their cars. It’s important and essential work.

But first we must understand that getting out of the car – and walking, cycling or catching public transport instead – is a scary prospect for many people.

Here’s why.

Getting out of the car is scary because we humans hate change.

Occasionally, but not very often, we choose to change. Sometimes there’s change that we’ve not chosen. Often change is forced upon us. For example, we might choose ourselves to work at home to save time and money. The doctor might tell us, in no uncertain terms, that it’s in our best interest to ride our bicycle to work to lose weight and prevent heart disease, so we change our behaviours. Or our work might relocate to new premises, with no staff car parking, and so everyone, including the boss, is forced to walk, bike or catch public transport. Only a very small percentage of people choose, themselves, to change.

Getting out of the car is scary because there are many biases that affect us:

  • We use the information that’s immediately recalled in our minds when we make a decision and we place more importance on recall than on information with factual weight. What this means in terms of travel behaviour change is that we travel and move around based on false knowledge and information. We believe that because we fell off our bicycle in 1983 that it’s dangerous to cycle, so we drive.
  • We’re selective and forget, or chose to ignore, activities, events or things that cause us pain and discomfort. In terms of transport, we’ll happily ignore the two hours of anger, rage and frustration when we’re stuck in traffic congestion because we perceive that the car is the most convenient mode of travel.
  • We’re emotional and believe things that have a positive emotional effect whilst typically rejecting, or ignoring, hard facts that are unpleasant. We drive the kids to school because we feel stressed about getting to school on time, when in reality it’s 10 minutes of arguments and the kids can’t play in the school playground before school because car exhaust pollution is so bad.

Changing travel behaviour takes time.

Who motivates people to change their travel behaviours where you live and work?

What support do your community and colleagues get to change their travel behaviours?

Do people where you live feel responsible for their travel behaviour change or is it seen as “someone else’s problem”?

Who is leading by example?

Does your council or government have a consultative style in its transport decision-making process?

What’s working where you live?