There isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy to reduce car usage

By Megan Link 

Reducing the amount we drive is critical for cutting emissions while also improving health, safety, and transportation system performance. This effort requires both changes in the built environment and individual travel behaviors. The strategies for doing so typically fall into two categories: soft strategies, which focus on incentives and changing attitudes, and hard strategies, which involve infrastructure improvements and new regulations.  

A recent review of past studies found that, while both are effective on their own, a more balanced approach lowered car use in more than 80% of studies. Based on a qualitative review of 31 studies, the researchers found that interventions led to reduced car use in 74% of studies, while a mix of both hard and soft interventions were 83% effective.  

A more analytical review of 21 original studies found more than half showed a significant reduction in car use. On average, interventions reduced vehicle use by around 12%. Hard interventions had a higher rate of 17%. One study, which looked at the effect of an action plan without any follow-up, showed an increase in car usage. 

The most effective strategies, according to the authors, include “restrictions in parking policy, personalized transport planning campaigns, congestion charging, and developing pedestrian infrastructure.” One study observed the effects of paid and restricted parking produced a 50% reduction. All interventions that improved the cyclist and pedestrian environment reported decreases in car usage. 

The authors conclude: 

“Altogether, our findings point out that the current state of evidence allows us to confirm previous results that transport interventions aimed at reducing in car usage in favour of other, more sustainable, transport modes have the potential to change transport patterns to be more sustainable and thus benefit health through increased physical activity levels. But, at the same time, our research shows that it is not only the intervention characteristics and setting, but also the methodology and how the outcomes are measured that influence the estimated effect. “

Photo Credit: Viktor Bystrov via Unsplash, unmodified. License.