Promoting ride sharing: Executive Summary
ABSTRACT It has been extremely difficult to bring about large-scale changes in the area of personal transportation behavior. Our society both relies on and subsidizes solo driving. For a great many people, driving to work alone is simply too convenient, comfortable, and cost-effective to consider alternative transportation modes. For others, there are not alternatives. Any tool that can help overcome barriers to behavior change deserves thorough investigation. Regardless of which package of incentives, disincentives, or other motivational techniques we choose in structuring their behavior change programs, a key common element will involve providing information to citizens. This study looks at one method of providing information and its impact on personal transportation decisions.
PROMOTING RIDE SHARING: THE EFFECT OF INFORMATION ?
ON KNOWLEDGE STRUCTURE AND BEHAVIOR
Report prepared by ?
Anne R. Kearney and ?
Raymond De Young ?
Conservation Behavior Laboratory ?
School of Natural Resources and Environment ?
The University of Michigan ?
430 East University Avenue ?
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1115 ?
Prepared for ?
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency ?
Office of Mobile Sources ?
2565 Plymouth Road ?
Ann Arbor, MI 48105 ?
Despite continuing technological improvements in vehicle emission control systems,
vehicles still are the single largest source of air pollution in U. S. cities. With vehicle use
continuing to increase, it is clear that technological advances alone will not solve our air
pollution problems in the foreseeable future. The 1990 Clean Air Act explicidy recognizes the
integral role that travel management plays in comprehensive air pollution control strategies.
Travel-related provisions of the Act include an Employee Commute Options (ECO)
program which focuses on work-related commuting. The program requires large employers in
the most polluted cities to encourage the use of alternatives to solo commuting among their
employees. Employers have considerable flexibility to provide incentives andlor disincentives to
switch from single occupancy vehicles to alternative modes of transportation that include transit,
carpools, vanpools, telecommuting, walking, and bicycling.
The success of ECO programs will revolve around employee willingness to change travel
behavior. While extensive research has been done on specific transportation control measures to
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trip reduction campaigns have been undertaken, the transportation community has been
frustrated by consistendy disappointing results. Few of these programs, however, have been
analyzed to examine what factors are most important in contributing to a change in employee
behavior. The identification of behavior change techniques that promote durable change in
travel behavior may increase the likelihood of ECO program success.
A source of new ideas can be found in the emerging field of Conservation Behavior.
There is a growing body ofliterature that explores how and why people change their behavior to
protect the environment. Studies ofbehaviors such as recycling, energy use, and water
conservation have shown that certain types of messages work better than others to stimulate
Contrary to popular belief, it appears that strong incentives and disincentives may be less
motivating over time than might be expected. These techniques require constant monitoring
and steadily stronger "rewards" or "punishments" to maintain initial levels of compliance. They
also can result in undesirable negative reactions in individuals, causing them, for example, to
increase their non-work automobile usage or to creatively circumvent the intent of an ECO
program. On the other hand, messages that engage interest on the intellectual level may hold
surprising power to bring about change. This study is one of the first to explore whether
findings from previous work also apply to transportation behavior.
Regardless ofwhich package ofincentives, disincentives, or other motivational
techniques employers choose in structuring their ECO programs, a key common element will
involve providing information to employees.
Psychological studies reported in the literature on the differences between commuters
who drive alone and those who use an alternative mode of transportation suggest two major
reasons why employees may not switch to alternative modes: (1) lack of information on how to
switch and how to deal with issues which may be encountered while using an alternative mode;
and, (2) differences in perceptions about the alternative mode (e.g., they are seen as less reliable
or more inconvenient by those who do not participate than by those who do). These findings
suggest that information may indeed provide a powerful tool in campaigns to encourage solo
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drivers to switch to alternative transportation modes. The effectiveness of the campaign,
however, is likely to depend on how the information is delivered.
Because the presence or absence of information is closely linked to individual decision
making, it may seem that affecting decisions, and, therefore, behavior, is a simple matter of
transferring information. The acquisition of information - learning - is, however, very selective.
Not all styles of presentation are equally effective at transferring information. In general, pallid,
relatively abstract, factual information is ineffective at affecting decision making. In contrast,
information which is interesting, vivid, concrete, and personalized (e.g., case studies, stories)
encourages learning and the integration of the new information with existing knowledge, making
it much more likely that the new information will be used when making behavior decisions.
FOCUS OF STUDY
This study, a collaborative research effort between the EPA and the University of
Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment, explored methods States and
employers might use in implementing ECO requirements based on evidence of human behavior
and decision making strategies. The study was carried out at four EPA facilities and at one
private sector site. The specific method tested was a narrative or story-based information
campaign. This method is appealing because it takes advantage of human decision making
processes and has the potential to circumvent some of the problems associated with traditional
economic incentives and disincentives (e.g., poor durability). It is also appealing because it is
low in cost and easy to implement.
The study was designed to test the hypothesis that a story-based information campaign is
an effective technique for changing employee knowledge about carpooling. It also tested the
hypothesis that changes in employee knowledge should result in increased willingness to try
carpooling. This pilot study did not attempt to measure actual behavior change. Such a task
would require long-term follow-up beyond the scope of this study.
The story-based information campaign was compared to a factual information campaign
(a more traditional approach) and to a control to determine: (1) ifinformation campaigns, in
general, affect how people structure their knowledge about ride reduction and vehicle related
environmental issues; and, (2) ifthe way in which information is presented (e.g., story, factual)
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affects this structuring. The target behavior was carpooling. Carpooling was chosen because it
can be adopted inexpensively almost anywhere and because it has not been studied as extensively
as less available transportation options, such as transit.
This study provides initial data about the effectiveness of story-based information
campaigns at changing employee knowledge about carpooling, and about how people structure
their knowledge about carpooling. The findings are as follows:
• ?Individuals who received information, whether in story or factual format, felt more
comfortable with their carpool knowledge; they felt that they had adequate knowledge to
guide them in discussion and problem solving regarding carpooling.
• ?Participants who received information, in either story or factual format, organized their
knowledge differendy than participants who received no information; their knowledge
structure was more complex.
Text perceived as interesting by the reader, whether the text was provided in story or
factual format, had a greater impact on perceived knowledge, confidence and comfort
with knowledge than text perceived as uninteresting. Interesting text also increased
reported willingness to try carpooling.
• ?Stories were more effective at conveying abstract information, such as the personal or
social aspects of carpooling (i.e., conversation, company ofothers, relaxation).
• ?Factual text was more effective at strengthening existing concepts, (e.g., saving money on
gas or parking, reducing air pollution).
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• ?The information campaign did not minimize concerns about perceived negative aspects
of carpooling, even though both the story and factual text provided information about
how to deal with these perceived problems (e.g., flexibility, errands).
The change in knowledge structure did not result in a willingness to change commuting
behavior. Participants reported that barriers such as scheduling problems would prevent
• ?Provision ofinformation did not significantly affect participants' attitudes about the
impact of automobiles on the environment.
The findings indicate that story-based information is more effective than factual text at
conveying intangible aspects of carpooling and at creating a deeper understanding of issues
related to carpooling. However, the study also suggests that increased knowledge and changed
perceptions of carpooling are not enough to change behavior; any information campaign must be
preceded or accompanied by a concerted effort to remove other significant barriers (e.g.,
scheduling problems, emergencies, not knowing people with whom to carpool). Lastly, it
suggests that a combination of factual and story-based information may be the most effective
way to change the way people think about carpooling and, ultimately, to encourage people to
carpool, particularly in a work setting.
This study was an initial exploration of change in attitudes about and understanding of
carpooling based on type ofinformation received. Future studies may look at the effect of
information on changing actual carpooling behavior, explore transportation alternatives other
than carpooling, and examine the effectiveness of combinations ofvarious strategies.
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