Passenger car use accounts for a large share of greenhouse gas emissions from transport and these emissions are still rising. If more people walked or cycled instead of driving for short daily journeys, we would have a significant impact on reducing emissions, as well as on our health and sustainable development. Data of Slovenian statistical office shows that most of our daily journeys to school, work, and errands are still made by car, even when the distances are up to five kilometres and could therefore be walked or cycled.
More than 50 % of daily trips made by car are not longer than 2 km and a fifth of people even use their car for journeys of up to one kilometre. At European level, Slovenia is also at the top of the world in terms of car use and the amount of money spent on cars in the household. The high number of cars is also a cause of congestion on the roads, which is not only the fault of the transport infrastructure, but also of the excessive use of cars.
This has led IPoP to develop campaigns to encourage active mobility. Active mobility, which includes walking and cycling or using electric scooters, is the ideal solution for traveling distances under five kilometres. The first camaign is available here.
In order to formulate the most suitable activities, we were first interested in what drives people to develop certain travel habits. Why do they choose to drive to work or school by car when the distance could easily be walked or cycled, and in a very short time? And under what conditions are they willing to change their habits? We got answers to a few of our questions in an online survey carried out in the spring of 2020. The travel habit survey was done on a representative sample. 2,859 respondents over the age of 15 from the general population took part in the survey in the spring of 2020. Since the pandemic undoubtedly affected our travel and other habits, we asked the respondents to answer as though the situation and conditions were normal.
A car is the simplest and most comfortable way to get around
The travel habit study revealed that when it comes to the choice of transportation, the respondents think practically, not ideologically. Most do not choose to use a car for short distances because they believe the car reflects their lifestyle or that it gives them a certain reputation and status. Even so, 56.1% of those that most often choose the car for their daily journeys do so because they enjoy the ride.
The greatest share of respondents who most often use a car for their daily journeys use it in bad weather (90.5%) or because this is the fastest travel mode (90.1%).
A large share use it because they estimate this choice to be the easiest (81.9%) and most comfortable way to travel (80.6%). Or they choose to use a car when they have baggage (87.3%) or because they run other errands along the way (83%). Most regard the distances to be too great (83.6%) or too time-consuming (74.7%) for walking or cycling.
Unsuitable conditions for walking and cycling
We also examined why the respondents did not use other types of active mobility. Some of the most common reasons the respondents listed as obstacles to walking and cycling are the lack of suitable infrastructure, i.e., bicycle lanes (31.1%), dangerous traffic on the route (25.2%), several different obligations (23.5%), and unpredictable weather conditions (20.2%).
Almost a third of the respondents answered that the reason they did not opt for other modes of transport is because they own a car (30.6%), which confirms the role of the car as being the primary mode of transport. This is a population group that owns their own car and makes practically every journey with it without even thinking about other possibilities.
Rain is the biggest nuisance
Since weather appeared as the most common reason for people opting to travel by car over other more active modes of transportation, the survey also examined which weather conditions are the most disruptive.
Precipitation has the biggest influence on that decision. As many as 72.7% of the respondents answered that rainfall is the deciding factor for them not to opt for active mobility. Low temperatures have a profound or very profound impact on this decision for 53% of the respondents, while high temperatures are important of very important factors for only 19.2% of the respondents.
People have not internalized severe urban overheating as the consequence of global warming and therefore do not perceive heat to be as bothersome as rain.
Better infrastructure is necessary for more cycled daily journeys
The study also examined under what conditions the respondents would be willing to swap their car for walking, cycling, or other means of transport.
If the infrastructure (bicycle lanes) was better, 52.1% of the respondents would choose the bicycle or other similar mode of transport over the car; if cycling connections were safer, 52% would opt for it, and if there was an option for safe bicycle or other mode of transport storage at the destination, 45.6% of the respondents would choose it.
Incentives by the state and employers, additional infrastructure at the destination (lockers and shower in the workplace), and lower prices of bicycles and other similar modes of transport bear somewhat less potential for change. About a third of the respondents would be willing to swap their car for a bicycle if this had a proven effect on their health. Of all the options, financial sanctions, such as car transport being more expensive through taxation and higher parking prices, have the least potential to boost change.
People would walk if the congestion was severe
The most powerful motive for swapping the car for walking is traffic congestion, in which case 58.1% of the respondents would decide to walk. This confirms our previous assumptions that car transport is still comfortable enough, and congestion is not extreme enough to deter people from using a car.
Health is also a strong motive, as 57.3% of the respondents would choose to walk if they had health problems or if they were advised to move more. 46.7% would choose to walk if this had a proven beneficial impact on their health.
Over half (50.3%) of the respondents would choose to walk instead of drive if safe and comfortable walking conditions were ensured, such as wide pavements, raised crosswalks, and trees offering shade.
Similar to the idea of swapping a car for a bike, the weakest motive for swapping the car for walking is more expensive car transportation, as only 37.6 % of the respondents would opt to walk in that case.
The survey results indicate that using the car for most daily journeys is still attractive enough because the respondents regard it as simpler, more comfortable, and faster compared to active mobility.
The respondents state that the infrastructure for walking, cycling, or other forms of active mobility is lacking or at least not appealing enough. Considering the recent investments in cycling infrastructure in most Slovenian municipalities, this is somewhat surprising. Several hundreds of kilometres of new cycling or walking routes are planned. The impact of these investments on travel habits will most likely be seen in the coming years, wherein the soft measures should not be neglected. Perhaps the respondents should be better informed about the improved cycling options, as they may not even be aware of them.
The respondents also see the facilities of their daily goals as obstacles to active mobility. Workplaces and educational institutions should be better equipped with lockers and suitable areas for bicycle and other similar transport vehicle storage. That means that active mobility needs to be considered in spatial planning and construction projects, and as arriving by bicycle or on foot needs to be normalised.
To a certain extent, financial measures, such as incentives or sanctions, could contribute to changes in travel habits, as their potential for change was confirmed by about a third of the respondents both for walking as well as cycling.
Considering the respondents’ answers as to the conditions that are necessary for changes to their travel habits, creating campaigns will need to place a lot of attention on the practical aspects. How to organize daily journeys so that most can be done on foot or by bicycle? How to be equipped for different weather conditions? How to organize luggage transport in the future?
Health has also proven to be a strong motive; however, some effort is still needed for raising awareness on the impact of daily physical activity, which most people would find easiest to do precisely by changing their travel habits.
In May 2022 IPoP – Institute for Spatial Policies has launched the Less than Two campaign, which aims to raise awareness among Slovenes about excessive car use and encourage them to make shorter daily journeys in an active way – on foot, by bicycle, scooter, skateboard. Videos highlight everyday journeys, most of which are less than two kilometres, that we make by car, explain why it is better to be active and what tricks to use to change your travel behaviour.
Check out the videos (with English subtitles) of the first campaign here.
The survey was carried out by Ninamedia. The Less than Two campaign was developed together with project partner D’Agency and the videos were shot by the production company Warehouse Collective. The Less than Two Campaign is an activity of the Life LIFE IP CARE4CLIMATE project (LIFE17 IPC/SI/0000072), an integrated project co-funded by the European LIFE Programme, the Climate Change Fund and the project partners.