Almost every Government and Council has a vision, or plan, to get more people cycling for transport and leisure.

The bicycle is a popular mode of transport, but participation rates are somewhat stagnant.

If we want more people to ride, then it’s important to understand the process of change.

We’ve all got a friend, family member or co-worker who complains about traffic congestion. We think he/she should ride a bike, but we don’t know how to encourage them to change.

There are several stages of change. Here’s what to do.

(1) Defensive – People in this stage are not thinking about change and defend their current travel behaviour. They enjoy travelling alone in their private car. The positives and benefits of their existing travel behaviour (the comfort of their own car) outweighs any costs or adverse consequences (traffic congestion, fuel costs, car parking fees) so they are happy to continue using their car.

The only thing you can really do is to have a quick chat about any problems they face driving to work.

(2) Maybe – This is when people are starting to think about a change. They are facing problems such as increased car parking charges, worsening traffic congestion, unreliable travel times or putting on extra unwanted kilos. People in this stage are open to change.

There’s an opportunity to discuss how their behaviour is impacting others. For example, being stuck in traffic congestion means they’re arriving at work angry or getting up extra early to beat the traffic is disrupting family life. This might create a compelling reason to change.

(3) Apprehensive – This is when most people will find that they can see equal reasons to change and stay the same. They are considering riding a bicycle, but they feel ambivalent about taking the next step. On the one hand they are experiencing some adverse consequences of driving (stress, frustration, tiredness, costs). On the other hand, they are feeling nervous about getting on their bike.

Now is the time to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of changing or staying the same. What are the benefits for them of changing from the car to the bike?

(4) Ready – They’ve decided to change and are getting ready to give their new mode of transport a ‘red hot go’!

There’s never been a better time to have a conversation about how change has happened in the past – whether it was dieting, exercising or healthy eating. What was accomplished then? What were the biggest challenges? What worked well?

(5) On their bike – They are now riding a bike for transport and for fun. They’re making great steps towards significant change. For example, cycling to work, riding to the café, talking about selling the 2nd car. There is of course a chance they’ll give up: running late, feeling tired or working late are great excuses to get back in the car.

Be supportive. Offer words of encouragement. Tell them about the positive changes that you’ve seen. Perhaps they’ve lost weight, they’re less stressed or they appear heaps happier.

(6) Cycling – Changes have been made. The 2nd car has been sold and they are cycling to and from work. They’ve avoided the temptation to return to the car when it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, Monday or Friday.

(7) Advocating – They’ve gone from being a car driver to a bicycle advocate. They’re spreading the word and enjoy telling others about the benefits they’ve experienced from riding their bicycle.

Change takes time. If we really want more people to ride, then first let’s understand the process of change.

Are your community ready to change? Or, are they looking for more support?