Planners and policymakers face an increasingly complex and pressing set of priorities and challenges— from financial constraints, to sustainability and health impacts, to emerging considerations such as wellbeing— when making decisions about managing transportation demand. The planner’s role in transportation demand management is often focused on presenting and framing options to stakeholders and elected officials to promote better decision-making, a role much like Thaler and Sunstein’s choice architect. Advances in behavioral economics have begun to provide a new toolkit of theories, models, and empirical methods for designing and evaluating policy. While many of these techniques are highly relevant to behavioral problems that planners encounter when consulting with the public, crafting policy and regulations, and promoting sustainable patterns of behavior, it has received only limited attention in the planning and transportation literature.
This paper presents a framework for applying behavioral insights to efforts to promote active modes such as bicycling and walking. With activity tracking smartphone applications, a researcher can communicate with users about their travel behavior using evidence-based communication techniques based on objectively measured travel data. Using a commercially available app, Moves, we test the feasibility of this approach in two pilot studies with university students and ‘Bike to Work Week’ participants in British Columbia and Minnesota. We also outline directions for future research and applications of mobile data collection and behavioral interventions to promoting sustainable travel behavior. Planners are only beginning to consciously adopt this role to the challenge of encouraging healthy and sustainable choices in everyday contexts like travel decisions.