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Behavioural Science in Transport - have we run out of carrots or is it time for big sticks?
Over the past year we’ve seen how user behaviour has impacted on travel across all modes of transport.  Some see this as an opportunity to “reset” and to introduce new technology and change services to help meet future safety and environmental goals.  Yes, it’s partly an issue of technology and investment but making these changes also depends strongly on user acceptance and behaviour which are the subject on the 18-19 May 2021 of the IET’s two Behavioural Science webinars.  

The first focuses specifically on passenger vehicles and with a safety & environmental theme.  Concerning safety, we know that the so-called “fatal 5” have large behavioural components but we can’t just enforce drivers into compliance so how do we get behavioural buy-in?  What about Electric Vehicles? Battery Electrics and hybrids now comprise about 1 in 10 of new vehicle registrations but, clearly, many more drivers need to be persuaded. What are the issues? And then, Autonomous Vehicles – what are the behavioural and acceptance issues with these?

The second seminar takes a broader perspective on transport behaviour.  We know that around 30% of UK’s CO2 emissions come from Transport and that the Government is to make legal commitments to cut emissions. So, how will our behaviour need to change?  Prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic it’s already changed, but is this permanent?  Can users be nudged into more sustainable travel choices or is the Climate Emergency so profound that we’re running out of carrots and the time for big sticks has come?

We had two excellent webinars that produced so many questions from delegates that we couldn't manage to respond to all of them at the time, however, here are some further responses from our speaks to some of those questions that we hope will prompt some further discussion in this post.

18 May Webinar

Q. Are there any infrastructure improvement programs going on to adjust/adapt to automated vehicles? What kind of infrastructure points need to be addressed for AVs?
DfT and CCAV are sponsoring a lot of research.

Q. By adopting EV's how can we overcome with consequences like EV charging slots, Source of power for charging incase if EV charging points  given on certain High Way Roads like monitoring and execution?
R. While EVs will increase electricity demand it will not be as bad as you might assume - for example, the petrol/diesel sectors already use huge amounts of power in refinement and processing, which will be offset. Also, the solution will be to ensure smart management of WHEN people charge. So for example, we want to avoid a spike in electricity demand at 6pm when everyone returns from work - so the solution would be smart charging technology which charges your car overnight, as and when power is available on the grid. So it may not start charging immediately, but instead aims for a target 'charge time' so you know it will be charged by, say, 7am the next morning.

Q. Free fuel generates more mileage.
Yes, a fair point (and presumably in response to my suggestion that EV grants could be re-framed as 'free fuel'). I think there could be ways around that, e.g. you get £2,500 of fuel credits, but capped. But certainly it's something you'd want to evaluate, and if the negative consequences were too great, I'd happily admit it's a bad idea! We need to be empirical about all of this.

Q. How can we presume or a time to guess the behavioural change of a particular driver and how the circumstances will relay?
Yes, a complex issue with research under way.

Q. Re my earlier question about driving licences I think the term I meant to use is "Endorsement" as used on pilots licences. I.e. would one have to have an AV endorsement to one's licence before being authorised to engage AV functions?
Yes, some form of licencing (and possibly testing or requirement to complete training) is something that's been suggested (but no concrete plans yet).

Q. Regarding electric vehicles, as noted the initial cost can be quite high. For many people who are on low incomes or minimum salaries and depend on their vehicles to get to work, this is not a choice they are able to make. As such higher cost vehicles become more common, and cheaper alternatives reduce, could there be a risk of increased social and economic exclusion?
I don't think the economic dynamics would quite work like that - given the UK (and many other countries) will be banning combustion vehicles in the future, there will be high demand for lower-cost EVs. And across Europe, manufacturers are penalised if they don't sell enough EVs vs. combustion vehicles.

Q. Will anyone address the real problems of there being sufficient zero carbon electricity available for the planned explosion in the number of electric vehicles?
Speaking for the UK, this isn't really true  - the electricity network is being decarbonised extremely quickly (e.g. all coal decommissioned), and while demand will increase somewhat, it'll be partly offset by reduced demand among the petroleum industry (which uses huge amounts of power in processing), and also by the adoption of smart charging solutions which avoid peak demand events.

In any case, it's feasible to increase power generation in a clean way. e.g. offshore wind power is getting incredible efficient and still improving every year. This will present some other challenges (e.g. needing to upgrade the main grid connection points to handle higher loads), but it's all feasible.  

Keep in mind the 'planned explosion' of EVs is over a 20-30 year timeframe. There is also a similar planned explosion of green electricity generation over the same time frame.

19 May Webinar

Q. Although Major Projects provide welcome employment how strong is the case for re-evaluating their need in a post-pandemic world?
This is a matter for the Department for Transport.

Q.The information that would be helpful in predicting what demands there will be on roads would be to assess the legacy effects of COVID in terms of what percentage of the workforce is likely to remain working from home for the majority of their time. This could then offset the impact of more people driving instead of using PT. Are you aware of anyone working on this?
The Department for Transport's 'All change' survey will continue to capture working behaviour and mode use in future waves, while adhoc surveys on behalf of various organisations have tapped into these issues. The interaction between the two will be key. As we move forward then ongoing national statistical surveys, such as the National Travel Survey and Labour Force Survey, are likely to be key sources for monitoring longer term shifts. Some estimates have already been made - see report co-authored by Jillian Anable https://www.creds.ac.uk/publications/at-a-crossroads-travel-adaptations-during-covid-19-restrictions-and-where-next/

Q. My experience using the Highways England network is trust the information it provides.  I've looked at their Twitter feed to see if there are planned closures - its shows nothing and only to get there a couple of hours later to find the road closed. Similarly  speed limits and warnings are shown which are clearly out of date or wrong. How can we get data to become more reliable so we can trust it?
Providing better information so our customers are better informed and trust the information they access is a key aspect of our new five year Customer Service Strategy. We are not only working to  improve the information we provide in advance of roadworks and closures but also improving our signs and signals to ensure the information is helpful and appropriate. We'll also work with industry to make use of technological advances in in-vehicle information. Our Customer Service Strategy is available internally and to our supply chain already. It will be published shortly.

Q.I would imagine vehicle-to-vehicle data and vehicle-to-infrastructure data would also be a useful source of information in future to allow better decision making?
Indeed.  Thanks for the comment

Q, Has people’s primarily behaviour/driver changed since COVID-19, such as the reasoning for using a particular mode, such as feeling COVID-19 safe, cost of mode in terms of time/financial, environmental, users health and wellbeing?
The Department for Transport's 'All change' survey has monitored travel patterns at key points in the pandemic, including factors influencing this. Overall a key finding has been around restrictions and behaviours resulting in less travel rather than mode shift at any scale. Published reports can be found here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-travel-behaviour-during-the-lockdown.

Q. How can we supply energy input for a fleet of 30m electric vehicles - which need to be absolute zero carbon?
1. Some increase in supply (more offshore windfarms, etc.)
2. Smart charging, so we avoid peak events (i.e. the vehicle charges overnight when it wants to, when there is low-carbon power available) - keep in mind the total capacity of the grid needs to cater to the peak load, not the average load, so there is a lot of headroom which can be gained by smoothing out energy demand over time of day. This can partly be done through behavioural solutions (encouraging people to adopt smart charging systems), or partly through greater electricity storage.
3. Power demands will be partially offset by reduced demands from petroleum industry which already uses huge amounts of power for processing.

Q. Is there an indication on trends for the number of people in a vehicle - eg sharing and how much scope for improvement is already being taken up?
The Department for Transport's 'All change' survey includes findings on proportion of sample who have travelled as a passenger in a car. This has changed in the different waves but may be partly influenced by restrictions and seasonal factors which impact on journey purpose. Published reports can be found here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-travel-behaviour-during-the-lockdown. Future monitoring of sharing of journeys in a car may be available from the National Travel Survey.

Q. I agree completely that there has to be both a push and a pull - does this mean we're going to have to have some form of road use pricing?
Yes, Road Pricing (with an environmental slant) e.g., as in Birmingham seems the most likely.  However, it still seems to be unpopular so the argument isn't won yet.

Q. I moved from New Zealand to the UK and noticed that there is a very different perception of transport modes here compared to NZ. While people from all walks of life use PT in Wellington, people in the UK, outside of London, regard PT, especially buses, as for 'poor' people. How do we change this cultural belief?
R. Thank you for the observation.  There do seem to be national/cultural differences. Clearly, there's work to be done in the UK on PT - both reality and perceptions.


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