Mobility habit resilience

Mobility innovations and new products and services are foreseen to dominate future mobility. Yet, there are certain barriers to the acceptance of future mobility systems and innovations, such as people’s existing habits. But do old habits really die hard? Is there a way to break habits when it comes to travelling?

• The timeframe when people change context, such as when they move to a new neighbourhood or change jobs, provides a window of opportunity for interventions.

•Interventions that are based on informing people about new services or new ways of commuting, such as taking the bike instead of the car for short-distance trips, are therefore more likely to succeed if they target people who recently changed into a new context, and have yet to develop robust habits.

• Research shows that people become more open to considering new information when they move to a new context.

• Habits are strong in the context they were developed.

Habits are those behaviours that we carry out frequently and without thinking (Verplanken & Orbell, 2003). For instance, if a person is used to commuting between work and home by car irrespective of how short the distances are, car-use become habitual for the person when thinking of ways to commute to work. As a result, changing behaviour to alternative and more sustainable ways of commuting modes might be difficult.

There has been evidence suggesting that habits can be countered, especially for those individuals who are in a transition in their lives, such as moving to a new neighbourhood or changing offices (Verplanken & Wood, 2006; Walker et al., 2014). Such natural changes in one’s life seem to provide the best opportunity to inform people about alternative ways of commuting, and getting them acquainted with more sustainable modes of transport.  

 This is because habits are strongest in the context in which they are initially developed. When the original contextual cues are no longer present in the environment (for example when moving to a new neighbourhood), the habit strength is weakened, providing a window of opportunity to consider new, alternative options.

Thus, interventions should aim at targeting people who are in transitions within their lives. For instance, people who have recently moved to a new neighbourhood could receive information packages from their municipalities informing them about alternative commuting options.

  • Verplanken, B. & Orbell, S. (2003). Reflections on past behaviour: A self-report index of habit strength. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33 (6), 1313-1330.  
  • Verplanken, B. & Wood, W. (2006). Interventions to break and create consumer habits. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 25 (1), 90-103.
  • Walker, I., Thomas, G. O., & Verplanken, B. (2014). Old habits die hard: Travel habit formation and decay during an office relocation. Environment and Behaviour, 1-18.

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