What Does Behavioral Science Have to Do With Transportation?

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.”

These behavioral-science concepts have been utilized in other fields like finance and Opower’s own work on energy conservation. However, they remain under-explored in the world of transportation. Much of Transit Tech Initiative Phase 2 (read about Phase 1 here) will look for ways to connect these concepts to Arlington’s transportation programs.

We’re lucky to have a leader in the field like Ben Foster right here in Arlington. Hamilton noted, “We look forward to working with Ben and the Conveyal team on incorporating these principals into [Arlington County’s] education and outreach work.”

You can find out more about Opower’s application of these ideas in Foster’s TEDx talk on energy conservation.

This article originally appeared in [https://mobilitylab.org/2014/07/10/what-does-behavioral-science-have-to-do-with-transportation/] and belongs to the creators.

Read Next

Perspective

Design thinking, behavioral science, and product management for global health initiatives – a conversation with Sandi McCoy and Aarthi Rao

In this podcast episode, we are joined by Sandi McCoy, associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and Aarthi Rao, director of the design and innovation lab at CVS Health. Some topics we discuss include how design thinking and traditional project management frameworks can impact global health initiatives, how behavioral science and public health can draw insights from Netflix's disruption of Blockbuster, and the lack of durability of certain nudges in the long-term.

Mental accounting bias
Perspective

Time Is Money: How Mental Accounting May Influence What We Spend Our Time On

If time is money, we might then be susceptible to the same cognitive biases encountered in the financial world when making decisions about time. Like money, time is a scarce resource that can be consumed, saved, and invested. This article explores how we can use mental accounting to reduce present bias, minimize procrastination, and improve our work-life balance.