A Step Towards Sustainable Transportation Behaviour: Understanding automobile ownership and mode choice through qualitative research
Dalla Rosa, Julia
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It is now widely recognized that society’s over-reliance on the automobile contributes to environmental problems, especially in urban areas. Nevertheless, efforts to bring about modal shifts through transportation demand management strategies typically have had limited success. As a result, transportation research is increasingly focused on understanding the decision-making process of travel behaviour changes including mode choice and automobile ownership. The purpose of this study is to explore how individuals arrive at a decision to live either car-free or car-lite. Using a grounded-theory approach, this thesis explores the factors involved in a car-free/car-lite decision and the manner in which those factors work together to create the decision making process(es). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 driving members of a car-sharing organization, each of whom made a decision to go car-lite (car-sharing is their additional vehicle) or car-free (car-sharing is their primary vehicle). Five main interconnected themes emerged from the analysis: finances, personal values and attitudes, personal history, perceived accessibility and situational life events. In particular, the participants’ experiences reinforce the importance of situation life events in the decision-making process, a factor not commonly identified in behaviour change theory. Additionally, the participants’ narratives illustrate that intention is created from an individual’s inclination and ability to make a travel behaviour change. However, translation from intention into action appears to be conditionally dependent on contextual and/or situational changes, most often in the form of situational life events, that provide a push into or out of the decision-making process. Findings underscore the importance of life events as catalysts for bringing travel behaviour in line with an individual’s sense of what is important and what is possible. This research illustrates the relevance of qualitative work in advancing transportation research – particularly in understanding human travel decisions. While the current transportation-planning paradigm is appropriate for making short-term forecasts, we must recognize that non-linear, non-utilitarian, long-term, often qualitative factors, such as those identified in this research, are not exogenous to travel decision making. Results also provide a basis for reflecting on the appropriateness of various metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of transportation demand management initiatives.