Social Experiment to Encourage Drive-Alone Commuters to Try Transit

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

ridership - behaviour, mode - car, mode - bus, place - north america, ridership - mode choice


social experiment, solo drivers, transit, rising gas prices, participan's attitudes, behaviours


This study reports on a social experiment conducted in summer 2008 to convert solo drivers to transit. During a 3-month period, which was a time of rising gas prices, drivers were offered a no-cost bus pass if they turned in their commuter parking permits. At the end of 3 months, participants could either regain their parking permits or purchase regular bus passes, which were subsidized at 50%. Of the 381 enrolled in the experiment, 70% continued to use transit (or alternative transportation) after the trial. Only 114 (30%) returned to parking, even as gasoline prices started to moderate. The experiment built on the experience of social marketing programs and other campaigns that have explicitly tried to change habitual driving habits. Typically, these studies track changes in participants' attitudes and behaviors. Researchers measured the attitudes and behaviors of participants, as well as changes in those who sought information but did not sign up and those who did sign up but later retreated to solo driving. Heuristically, these groups were labeled seekers, keepers, and retreaters. The three groups were compared and contrasted to identify factors that facilitate or reduce the likelihood of choosing to commute by public transit. Further applications of the social experiment are warranted because it effectively recruited new transit riders and it also provided insights about the process of changing travel modes.


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