Social norms and public transport usage: empirical study from Shanghai

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - asia, policy - sustainable, planning - surveys, ridership - perceptions, ridership - mode choice


Public transport usage, Car ownership, Norms, Social problem awareness, China


Chinese cities need to consider various TDM measures to cure adverse influences from exceeding private car ownership and use. We therefore explore the potential role of norms and awareness of problems caused by excessive car traffic for car purchase and mode choice decisions. With a sample of 465 responses collected via an online survey in Shanghai, our study suggests that the perception of “everyone around me is using public transport” (descriptive norms) is negatively correlated with car ownership. More importantly, we find that expectation of important others (subjective social norms) and internalized responsibility to use greener transport (personal norms activated by social problem awareness) stimulate the intention to use public transport and increase actual public transport usage. We further find that income does not influence public transport usage intentions or the actual modal choice directly but only via car ownership as mediating factor. We discuss that our findings support regulations to limit private car ownership and use but also to utilize “soft policy measures” in order to achieve a voluntary shift towards more sustainable travel behavior in Shanghai.


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