Arlingtonian Ben Foster dropped by Mobility Lab this week and shared his perspective with a few dozen transportation experts on how behavioral science can help us better understand how we make decisions and how different types of information can affect the ways in which we might change our routines.
And as part of my company Conveyal’s work on the Arlington Transit Tech Initiative, it was a timely visit. We’ve been thinking a lot about how to help people better understand and incorporate different transportation options into daily routines.
But changing our routines can be challenging for both obvious and not-so-obvious reasons.
Foster spent the last several years in leadership roles at Opower, an Arlington-based company that helps individuals and businesses lower their energy consumption.
Similar to the choices people make with transportation, changing energy-consumption habits can be challenging even if the many benefits are clear. Through its work with utility companies, Opower has demonstrated how combining behavioral science and information design can motivate us to make and stick with new habits.
In the context of Arlington County’s work on transportation demand management, one of the more interesting concepts Foster discussed was BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model, which explores the effectiveness of “triggers” to motivate change.
Ultimately, it is a combination of personal motivation and circumstance that determine whether information, education, and outreach help people consider, say, taking the Metro instead of driving a car. But under the right conditions, triggers help us cross the threshold from intention to action. These triggers could include information tools (like apps, maps, or posters) or reminders about possible transit options (from friends, the media, or government agencies).
Chris Hamilton, bureau chief of Arlington County Commuter Services, attended Foster’s presentation and reacted: “It was so cool for our team to hear what Ben Foster learned at Opower and applied to using less energy. And discuss with him how that relates to trying to get people to drive less and bike, walk, and use transit more. Our B2B team at Arlington Transportation Partners and our outreach teams at Car-Free Diet, BikeArlington, WalkArlington, and The Commuter Stores were fascinated about figuring out what data could provide insight for people to take action and make a change.”