Jun 20, 2016

SmartMove: modal shift that won’t break the bank

Active mobility consultancies yield tonnes of CO2 savings in rural Europe

The results are in: Two and a half years after the SmartMove project began, final evaluations have been conducted on eight active mobility consultancy (AMC) campaigns to boost public transport use. And though some campaigns engaged more people than others, those who took part responded in dramatic fashion in every case.

SmartMove’s AMC method was tested in eight, mostly rural, regions across Europe during spring and summer of 2015. The regions were economically and geographically diverse, spanning Portugal to Poland and Germany to Spain. Earlier this year, participants were surveyed to find out how they responded. In every case, a sizable portion of participants – from 6.7 to 25 percent – increased their use of public transport. And the average increase was toward the high end of the range at 17 percent.

These results were unveiled at SmartMove’s final conference June 22 in Cologne, Germany, where partners from all eight regions presented their work and achievements.

The SmartMove method involves engaging households in face-to-face dialogue that gives people tailored advice and information to help them make more use of public transport in their daily travel. In test regions, the dialogues were supported by several active measures, including bus trainings, pedelec try outs and citizen audits carried out within the implementation areas.

From follow-up interviews of households who took part in the campaigns, it’s evident that people appreciated the consultancies and got value from them. In nearly every trial site, 80 to 90 percent of participants reported learning something new about the local public transport system by taking part. Typically, in addition to participants who had already changed their travel habits, a quarter to half of respondents said they felt more motivated to use public transport in the future.

The increases in public transport use have improved the environment. In every region, survey data was used to calculate a number of avoided car trips per week, and with average trip distances factored in, an estimate of avoided CO2 emissions could be calculated. The savings per region amounted to 20 and 100 tonnes of avoided annual CO2 emissions.

The SmartMove methodology proved a persuasive tool in getting people to change their mobility habits – even in rural regions where public transport service is infrequent and perhaps less competitive with cars when compared to urban contexts. The trick, however, is to get people to participate in the first place.

In most regions, local implementing partners reached or exceeded the project target of engaging 500 local households. A few regions struggled to reach that threshold, including two regions in Germany. Obstacles there include national laws restricting house-to-house solicitation as well as the lack of data on household mailing addresses.

Elsewhere, however, the targeted number of people was reached and the results impressive. One lesson was that the more personalized the outreach, the quicker the recruitment. Postal outreach was least effective, while email and phone solicitation worked much better. Best of all was face-to-face recruitment by on-the-ground canvassers.

Once participants were engaged, good results were practically guaranteed. Active mobility consultancy proved to be an excellent tool for squeezing more utility out of existing public transport services without increases in operational costs or expensive investments in infrastructure.

If you are interested in more details of the method, please visit our online learning tool here.