CommuteCon 2020

Nudge Me Baby One More Time

Jessica Roberts
Principal
Alta Planning

Session Description

When’s the right time to try to change someone’s commuting behavior? Getting it right could boost your commute program’s effectiveness at no additional cost – and getting it wrong could be costly. In this talk, learn what behavioral science tells us about the best time to act. We’ll discuss ideas that you can use today, and show you how testing can help you figure out the optimal timing for your commute program.

Jessica Roberts is a principal at Alta Planning + Design, an internationally renowned planning firm that specializes in bicycle, pedestrian, park, and trail infrastructure. Alta Planning + Design has offices in 16 U.S. states and the Canadian province of Ontario.

In her talk, Jessica focused on why timing matters more than many planners think when it comes to implementing a TDM program. Emerging TDM research is finding noteworthy trends that link timing-related factors to successful mode shift campaigns. Jessica talked about several specific principles she has been seeing in recent studies:

The “fresh start effect”: People tend to take action toward achieving a goal in direct response to a new external prompt or temporal landmark, like an anniversary, birthday, or holiday.
Moving homes: A strong body of recent research has revealed that people tend to dramatically increase transit use (among other types of mode shift) right after changing homes. Targeting members of your people team right after they move can be very effective.
Traffic disruption: People tend to seek out and find different ways to get around when their regular routes are disrupted by special events, construction, or other road closures.

Jessica also noted that the “fresh start effect” does not necessarily have to be organic. Program designers can create them by framing their initiative to make users feel like they are part of a fresh start: birthdays, federal holidays, Mondays, the 1st of the month, seasonal firsts, and new jobs all offer these opportunities.

In addition, Jessica explored the intriguing notion of positioning programs so they capitalize on a person’s novel positive experience with a new mode of transportation. For example, if a first-time participant in a “bike to work month” program enjoyed a fantastic cycle-based commute, they might be primed for an invitation to long-term behavior change. Jessica noted that commuters, like everyone else, tend to seek ways to create consistency in their choices, and positive new experiences can lay the groundwork for consistent changes in their transportation behaviors.

In wrapping up, Jessica also talked about the need to avoid “fighting” with your own policies. As an example: employers who offer commuters free parking aren’t likely to encourage mode shift by offering an established solo driver a free transit pass for their birthday.

Jessica’s full talk is rich with interesting, science-based insights. Be sure to check it out to learn more, and reach out if you think you might like to try some of these experiments yourself.

About the Speaker:

Jessica Roberts is a principal at Alta Planning + Design and has been a leader in the Active Transportation field for nearly two decades. She directs award-winning programs and projects that help people drive less often, and use active and shared modes more often. Her current research focuses on bringing the findings and methods of behavioral science to benefit the TDM field. She owns five bikes, zero cars, and a ludicrous number of shared mobility apps. Follow her on Twitter @jessicaroberts.