Tag Archives: incentives

It is Irrational to Not Drive a Car

By Dom Nozzi

People fool themselves into thinking that we’ll get great bus ridership or much higher levels of walking or biking if we create good facilities for such travel.

That is nonsense.

It is WAY too rational to drive alone by car, given our heavy car subsidies. Unless a person is an ideologue, like me, it is senseless to opt for a form of travel that is less safe, less convenient, WAY less pleasant. You can haul more cargo. Your speed is much greater (critical in this day and age). You have perfect flexibility to travel when you please. You can give friends and family a ride.

Best of all, you only have to pay a fraction of the true cost of enjoying all those benefits.

Better bus service, bike paths or sidewalks simply cannot compete in such an unbalanced playing field.

The research literature shows that we can only make headway on SOV travel if we level the playing field by charging congestion fees and parking fees, limit car parking, letting congestion get bad, achieve high residential and commercial densities, have mixed use, reduce travel distances, make our streets interconnected, etc.

I’m hoping we can make such meaningful changes someday, and have always realized that we need to have the bus, bike and sidewalk infrastructure in place so that people are not forced to bear huge burdens of car dependency in a happy future in which it is no longer rational to drive SOV.

To me, that is a key role of planning and sustainability. Will we have choices when the shit hits the fan? The important strategic/political question, though, is how do we get the bus, bike and pedestrian stuff in place? And I’m convinced it will only happen in a meaningful way when we are forced, by environmental/economic conditions, to provide it.

As a planner, I’d love it if we could have these facilities in place in advance of the coming hard times. But that is not how it works in a democracy, where we are inherently reactionary. That is why I lean more and more toward wanting a benign dictatorship to save us.

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Filed under Bicycling, Transportation, Walking

The Best Way to Educate People That Bicycling is Desirable

By Dom Nozzi

It is quite common in America to believe that the most important way to convince people of the desirability of a behavior is to educate them. “We need educate people that suburban sprawl is bad.” Or “we need to persuade college students to recycle more.” Or “we need to inform the residents of our town that they should not litter.”

I want to be frank. “Educating” people is an exceptionally poor way to modify human behavior. Indeed, it is quite common for a person who disagrees with a community objective (such as, say, reducing energy consumption) to oppose a new regulation and instead claim that we simply need to “educate” people to do the right thing.

However, if we are honest, we will accept the overwhelming evidence that the best education, by far, to convince people that they should behave in a more socially desirable way is to adjust market prices so that the behavior becomes more rational. As an aside, if adjusting market prices is not feasible or appropriate (for example, a local government is usually unable to modify the price of, say, a barrel of oil from the Middle East), a second-best tactic for modifying behavior is government regulation.

When modifying prices or adopting new regulations are NOT pursued as a way to modify behavior, and “education” is instead the tool used, it is a sign that the community is not serious about achieving the objective.

A frequent question in my profession of transportation planning is the question of how to increase travel by bicycle.

In my (dangerous?) opinion, the most effective way to increase the level of bicycling in a communty is to adjust market prices so that it becomes rational to bicycle.

Sure, it can be a nice idea to point out that bicycling is good for your health. Or reduces air pollution. Or saves money. But almost no one is convinced that they should bicycle when they hear such platitudes. Thinking that such messages are sufficient to increase bicycling, again, is a sign that we are not serious about increasing bicycling.

If we are serious about increasing bicycling, we need to modify price signals.

For example, increase the cost of motor vehicle parking, accept traffic congestion as a way to increase the “time tax,” increase the cost to drive on roads (via electronic road or congestion fees), increase the cost of gasoline (via an increase in the gas tax).

Get serious about modifying behavior in a socially desirable way. Opt for price signals (or regulations). “Education” is a feel good tactic that delivers little, if any, beneficial change in behavior.

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Transportation