Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Australians Have Learned to Drive Less

• March 18, 2011 • 5:00 AM

In car-crazy Australia, soft measures are turning the tide in the hard battle to reduce the number of basically empty cars on the road.

With turmoil raging near Middle Eastern oil fields and December’s Cancun climate summit failing to produce any binding agreement even though the Gulf of Mexico had suffered from the world’s worst offshore oil spill, perhaps it’s time to consider how America might honestly address its oil dependency and global warming issues.

Transportation, not industry or commerce, is the prime factor in the nation’s consumption of petroleum and emission of greenhouse gases. American driving consumes over half of the nation’s daily burn of 19 million barrels of oil and produces 45 percent of the entire world’s automotive carbon dioxide emissions.

As Americans drive more than 2.9 trillion miles annually, spewing clouds of environmental, traffic, trade and security issues in their exhaust, there’s remarkably little interest in changing habits.

Australia, a booming economy with a higher rate of car ownership than the United States and even more wide-open spaces, is a model for what we must do.

The “car culture Down Under,” however, has turned the public acceptance corner and is building, with strong citizen support, seemingly expensive bike-pedestrian infrastructure, bus rapid transit and commuter rail with local, state and — only recently — federal dollars.

Infrastructure Australia allowed 2010 money to be spent on roads only if they primarily carried freight and set aside 55 percent of each federal transportation dollar for commuter rail. (In the United States, 80 percent of federal transportation money goes into highways — and that’s before the $28 billion in stimulus dollars President Obama put into shovel-ready highway projects. Our total subsidy for roads was $145 billion in 2004, four times the subsidy for mass transit.)

[class name=”dont_print_this”]

Americans can be persuaded to drive less

Although lots of places in the United States sample bits and pieces of transportation management, Bellingham, Wash., shows what can happen by taking on the full program. Read about it here.[/class]

Australia still has freeways and suburbs, still has conflict between liberal and conservative parties, still has wide-open spaces, still has economic growth at the forefront of planning. And yet, led by dozens of “soft” transportation demand management (or TDM) projects in cities as diverse as Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth, it has found the key to moving individual transportation behavior away from the convenience of the single-occupancy vehicle.

In Perth, for example, after a decade of TDM educational marketing called TravelSmart, the state of Western Australia opened the Southern Suburbs Railway in December 2007. It was over budget and behind schedule — but saw 67,000 first-day riders and 90 percent approval ratings. Thirty years ago, Western Australia was closing commuter rail and building freeways in all directions.

Each TravelSmart project is different, but in general, the individualized educational programs provide whatever information and emotional support — like personal bicycle doctors or bus drivers to explain the schedule — to help any member of any marketed household change driving behavior on any trip, not just the commute trip. Printed materials are delivered by bicycle as TravelSmart practitioners practice what they preach.

Other psychological concepts, like “reciprocity,” “creating community” and “bypassing adversaries,” ensure that TravelSmart is only working with citizens willing to change while reassuring them of the societal value of their transportation behavioral change. In Brisbane’s latest TravelSmart projects, the average cost is about $70 per household. (Budget divided by households in Aussie dollars)

In fall 2009, in the midst of finalizing a 324,000-home TravelSmart project, the state of Queensland opened a $63 million footbridge over the Brisbane River — just eight years after many citizens fought a $23 million footbridge less than a mile away. Brisbane’s conservative mayor, Campbell Newman, while pledging $100 million for bike paths has cooperated with liberal state politicians and built a pair of “end of the road” cycling facilities that promise hot showers, laundry, bike repair and clean lockers to more than 1,000 bicycle commuters. In its first year, the $6.5 million King George Square Cycle Center saved 56,000 car-kilometers (35,000 car-miles) between the suburbs into the city, a Griffith University study shows.

The Australian experience is indicating clearly that “carrots, sticks and tambourines” — with TravelSmart being the tambourines — can decrease traffic and therefore lower congestion, pollution, greenhouse emissions and improve citizen health.

In 2006, Queensland planners discovered an amazing “diffusion” of TravelSmart materials designed to help drivers choose any other mode of transportation for any trip — not just a commute — in a 77,000-home project in the northern Brisbane suburbs. More than 100,000 households were using the brochures, maps, schedules, discount tickets and promotional information.

As Werner Brög, TravelSmart’s German founder, puts it, “People want to be part of the solution. They just don’t know how.”

Indeed, Queensland is today spending $22.6 million to TravelSmart in the South Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coasts suburbs because it is absolutely sure that “soft” transportation demand management marketing changes individual behavior by re-acquainting receptive citizens with bicycles and buses.

Brisbane hopes to reap the same benefits that the 1.6 million people in and around Perth did after its decade of TravelSmart. Western Australia finds that annually TravelSmart marketing is decreasing car starts by 30 million and carbon emissions by 88 million tons while increasing transit boardings by 4.2 million and physical fitness hours by 7 million — every year.

For the first several years of Australian TDM projects, academic critics argued that individualized marketing data was not “reliable” because of difficulty duplicating it. Every TravelSmart operative, for example, is encouraged to say whatever he or she wants as long as there is no coercion. Hence, with no “script” to analyze as a study variable, academic researchers couldn’t re-create the marketing model and illustrate similar results.

But after early critic Peter Stopher of the University of Sydney used GPS units to “meter” drivers in Adelaide over a three-year period and discovered an 18 percent reduction in vehicle kilometers driven if the household had been individually marketed — greater results than Brög had ever claimed — every major urban area in Australia except Sydney is utilizing TravelSmart today.

Sydney, where mass transit is already maxed, has avoided using TravelSmart out of fears it will create demand for public transportation that it can’t supply.

In 2004, the OECD nations published “Communicating Environmentally Sustainable Transport,” which underlines the issue. The prime benefit of “soft measures” like TravelSmart, the conference proceedings note, is improved acceptance of “hard measures” — like taxes and expensive infrastructure, the “carrots and sticks” of TDM. The “carrots,” like Brisbane’s cycleways, cycle centers and world-class busways program, have only come in tandem with the public hearing the tambourines.

Today, as the Perth-area has expanded the individualized concept into energy usage, water savings and recycling, about 80 percent of citizens want to hear, and see, more information on changing their own behavior to benefit society.

Perhaps most importantly, Australians are today willing to back expensive alternative transportation infrastructure with their tax dollars — even if it’s infrastructure they don’t personally think they will use.

 

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Randy Salzman
After a career as a communications professor, Randy Salzman studied transportation demand management at Oxford University in the United Kingdom and is writing a book about successful transportation demand management.

More From Randy Salzman

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



November 19 • 2:00 PM

Egg Freezing Isn’t the Feminist Issue You Think It Is

New benefits being offered by Apple and Facebook probably aren’t about discouraging women from becoming mothers at a “natural” age.


Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

The Big One

One company, Comcast, will control up to 40 percent of Internet service coverage in the U.S., and 19 of the top 20 cable markets, if a proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by regulators. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.