Posted on: April 16, 2018 at 8:24 AM    

New Zealand is a diverse place. We have achieved much in the last 800 years of habitation, but remain relatively unpopulated. This means there is a contrast between our main cities and the rest of the country. For the majority of the population, congestion and safety aren’t the real deciders on how or when to travel. Where they live and work and how they travel between the two are inexorably linked due to a lack of real alternatives.

The real measure that determines all of these, is am I going to enjoy the overall experience? I doubt many of us travel by a mode we don’t overall enjoy, at least for a prolonged period, and I believe our choice of mode is more an emotional decision than a quantitative one – after all, in most cities commuting by car is generally more expensive than any other mode when you consider all the costs of driving.

Consequently, when we try to influence travel choices by cost and time comparisons alone, are we missing the real leverage measure of "enjoyment"?

Frank – That’s Mr V8 to you.

Let’s be Frank. Frank likes his car. He owns it. It takes him door-to-door exactly when he wants. It’s his private space, with all the bells and whistles he enjoys. No other mode can match this luxury. There’s a lot of enjoyment from this mode. To persuade Frank to choose something else there are many obstacles to overcome.

Let’s break down enjoyment into more conventional terms:

  • Money – not really an issue on its own. If it was, the choice has already been made. Frank sees comparative additional cost of driving being an enabler of fun, so the monetary difference is immaterial to the decision. He excludes the cost of owning a vehicle since he’s never not going to own a car (that would be unthinkable!). Just like buying coffee rather than making it yourself – it may be more expensive, but it’s way more enjoyable.
  • Mobility – Sure the extra 30 minutes in the peak hour is a drag, but he’s warm, listening to the radio, and enjoys the personal time to get his head in the game. He reminds himself that its those extra 30 minutes travelling means he gets to live in a spacious house in the country. To him, where he lives is more important than where he works. His car also provides the agility to change his destination at will.
  • Safety – Frank thinks he’s the safest driver in the world. He enjoys his car which protects him from the world outside. More fun than mingling with the masses. (Yes, it’s ironic given statistically it’s one of the least safe modes). 
  • Reliability – His car is there waiting patiently to take him wherever he wants, whenever he wants. He tried using public transport (PT) once but missed a single connection which wasn’t fun at all. So then he decided the whole idea of PT was flawed.
  • Amenity – Music of choice, temperature of choice, smells of choice, cleanliness, his private horde of snacks and the companionship of his dog (often no pets permitted on PT), clearly driving is more enjoyable.

So, what will change Frank’s mind?

Decades of experience have habitually ingrained Frank’s need to use his car. He’s an addict for whom it is impractical to be permanently clean. To break his daily habit, the pain of use must substantially outweigh the pleasure. It’s not a logical argument, but an emotive one. The fun-o-meter needs to significantly swing toward other modes.

I am supportive of the current draft GPS’s focus on Safety and Access (see Mobility and Reliability), but political parties seem to me to be unwilling to address the single factor under their control - money. Governments really need to progress with urgency a single road user charging system that simultaneously addresses the funding gap and enables flexible and fair charging.

The technology is already proven that can account for vehicle/fuel type, location, time, speed, proximity to alternative modes, etc. Make travel for those with no alternative cheaper, but penalise peak hour ‘congesters’ and in urban areas and speeders generally – making car travel fun for those without a choice, and enjoyable alternatives  for those with a choice. Let’s advocate for a new measure: the Enjoyment-Cost Ratio.

Blog written by Colin MacArthur, Associate Director, Abley Transportation Consultants

Colin blog photo