The role of habit and residential location in travel behavior change programs, a field experiment

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, place - universities, ridership - mode choice, ridership - behaviour, planning - methods


Field experiment, Travel mode choice, Transit use, Student travel, Behavior change


Early evaluations of travel change programs demonstrated dramatic success in shifting people out of cars and into transit and active travel. Yet methodological shortcomings of early studies combined with newer more rigorous evaluations have called into question the dramatic early results. In this study, we use a randomized field experiment of incoming graduate students at the University of California, Los Angeles to answer two research questions. First, do travel behavior change programs work? And second, why do they tend to work for movers, but not non-movers? We test two competing hypothesized mechanisms for how travel interventions work: (1) by breaking travel habits during a period of self-reflection (habit pathway), or (2) by improving the transit quality of one’s home neighborhood (residential location pathway). We find that a low-cost, informational program effectively altered the travel patterns of movers, but not non-movers. Overall, we find little support for the residential location pathway. Members of the treatment group did not live in significantly different neighborhoods compared to members of the control group. In addition, the treatment remained effective when controlling for residential location. This provides indirect evidence for the habit pathway, by which travel behavior programs influence travel behavior through information provided during periods of reflection. Behavioral change campaigns targeted at recent movers are likely just as effective as campaigns targeting those preparing to move as both groups are undergoing periods of reflection.


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