Research - 16.05.2023 - 10:00

How can mobility behavior be changed? Findings from the first study by the "Future Mobility Lab" at the University of St.Gallen

An appeal to ecological conscience alone is not enough – in order to persuade people to switch to a more sustainable means of transport, routines must be broken and attractive alternatives to a private car must be available, according to the first study by the "Future Mobility Lab" at HSG. It shows how mobility behavior for 20 households can be changed in the long term.

Creating convincing, sustainable mobility options and motivating people to use them – this is the contribution the Future Mobility Lab would like to make to the traffic turnaround. With "New Mobility Buddys" it presents the results of its first study. The lab, founded in March 2022 , is a consortium of cities, associations and central mobility service providers from Germany and Switzerland. As an initiative of the Institute for Mobility (IMO-HSG), at the University of St.Gallen and the communications agency fischerAppelt, their first study provides answers to the question of how people can shape their mobility behavior with fewer emissions and, where possible, less ownership.

Over 100 interventions in 20 private households

“Mobility affects us all individually on a daily basis. For this reason, the integration of various perspectives for the design of future mobility is of central importance. The Future Mobility Lab is a platform for a wide variety of stakeholders and designers of the mobility change and hopes to be a place that inspires ideas that have a real impact on mobility behavior," says Prof. Dr. Andreas Herrmann, director of the IMO-HSG. “With our lab we want to promote sustainable mobility. Therefore, with our study, we looked at the circumstances under which people are willing to switch to sustainable means of transport and asked which individual factors people use to make their daily mobility decisions," explains Jürgen Stackmann, director of the IMO-HSG's "Future Mobility Lab".

In the study, 20 private households in Berlin, Hamburg, Zurich and St.Gallen were supported and advised by scientists – so-called 'Mobility Buddys' – on organizing their mobility over a period of four months. “The special thing about the structure of the course is that we worked intensively with the participants over a longer period of time. This gave us a comprehensive impression of their mobility needs and mobility behavior," says Dr. Philipp Scharfenberger, vice director of the IMO-HSG, explains the approach of the study. “The households were selected with the aim of depicting living conditions that were as heterogeneous as possible. Families with children, but also single households who live in urban, suburban or rural areas took part in the study," says Jannis Linke, research associate at the IMO-HSG.

After measuring previous mobility behavior, various measures that contribute to lower-emission mobility were tested in an iterative process together with the households. A total of over 100 interventions were carried out with the households, divided into 13 measures: These include, for example, doing without a car and switching to an electric vehicle, using public transport, and using shared mobility offers, for example car sharing and utilizing options in the field of micro-mobility, the use of mobility apps and the consideration of CO2 emissions, and the costs for the forms of mobility used (tank/charging costs, tickets, rental costs for sharing offers, etc.) as influencing factors for the choice of means of transport.

Own car despite competitive alternatives

"It was observed that only a few of the participants were able to correctly estimate their mobility costs at the beginning of the study - but in turn cited these as a central argument for choosing the mode of transport. In the course of the study, several of the participants were then willing to deliberately pay more for a private car compared to an objectively cheaper alternative - even if the latter could be easily integrated into the daily routine. Even the demonstration of CO2 emissions – at least as a single factor – generally had no decisive influence on the choice of mode of transport,” Jannis Linke summarizes some of the results of the collaboration with households.

The results of the study also show that a successful change in mobility behavior is derived from three overarching dimensions:

  • First, breaking through existing mobility routines (behaviour)
  • Second, the creation and further development of attractive alternative offers (offer)
  • and thirdly, a differentiated classification of the modes (context).

The latter dimension emphasizes that the mobility mix of a household depends to a large extent on its specific requirements and needs as well as the optimal mobility offer in each case.

Easy app access to attractive multimodal alternatives

The study results highlight various alternatives to a private car with a combustion engine: In the urban study areas in particular, there is already a wide range of shared forms of mobility. So-called multimodal apps, in which several mobility offers can be booked within one platform, are important for increasing their attractiveness. This simplification is important from a user perspective, since shared forms of mobility often only offer a similar flexibility as a private car in their network. In regions without a corresponding offer, shared forms of mobility could achieve CO2 savings through the use of electric vehicles. At the same time, the results encourage further investigation of the potential for reducing emissions by avoiding unnecessary routes (e.g. through the meaningful integration of virtual exchange formats in a professional context).

The study makes it clear that changes towards sustainable mobility are already possible in many cases today. “It is important that easy access to attractive shared mobility offers is further expanded. External impulses and incentives are often required to break through established mobility routines. This includes giving people a comprehensive overview of the mobility options available to them through simple access to information and applications," summarizes Dr. Philipp Scharfenberger.

Limitations of the study

The research design of the study was aimed at gaining a comprehensive insight into the everyday mobility decision-making behavior of the participating households over a period of four months. The associated advantages are offset by disadvantages. The limitations of the study lie in the areas of the small sample (N = 20 households), the average economic situation of the households, a high diversity of different offers and spatial contexts as well as socio-cultural differences of the households. The present results therefore do not claim to be representative and should be further examined in future studies.

The "New Mobility Buddys" study for download (in German):