What does it take to switch transport choices?

Tasmanians will be the guinea pigs in understanding what it takes to get people out of cars and into active transport and public transport, in the new Health by Stealth research project.

The University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research has been awarded over $270,000 in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council to run the research, led by Dr Verity Cleland.

It is also teaming up with local partners Metro Tasmania, Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services and Local Government Association of Tasmania which are providing in-kind support for the project.

“Healthy transport options include walking, cycling and public transport and, apart from the physical health gains associated with additional activity, these also have the benefits of reducing traffic congestion and accidents, increasing social contact and connectedness and reducing air pollution,” Dr Cleland said.

The project will run for three years, broken in two stages.

The first stage will seek to understand Tasmanians’ travel behaviour and how much exercise is involved in each transport mode.

Dr Cleland said the international and interstate research around public transport use and activity, for example, mostly comes from large cities. This research shows that people who use public transport also tend to be more active than car drivers as they walk to and from the stops.

However, in Hobart some people who drive will park on the edges of the city and walk in. Health by Stealth will examine how much more active public transport users in Tasmania are compared to people who take other modes of transport.

Researchers will conduct interviews and surveys, as well as interrogating existing data in a different way, such as the Tasmanian population health survey and Australian Bureau of Statistics information.

The second stage will examine the effectiveness of incentives to get people to switch their transport choices. Dr Cleland said there is a gap in public health literature about the effectiveness of incentive-based policy and Health by Stealth will seek to examine economic and social incentives.

Researchers have already started evaluating Metro’s Free before Seven campaign which ran for four weeks when schools returned in late January.

Next year the project will work with partners to trial other ideas. For example bus passengers who rack up a certain number of trips may get a free trip as a reward, or people who decide to walk or ride to work may get supportive text messages to spur them on.

Not suprisingly, Bicycle Network Tasmania would like to see incentives trialled to get more people on bicycles.

A number of options have been used in other countries and states, including recent incentives to get more people on to electric bicycles.

  • Work fleet bicycles – Having a fleet of electric bicycles available for staff instead or as well as a car fleet to get to meetings and other sites during the day.
  • Salary sacrificing bicycle purchase – E-bikes are not cheap so getting a tax discount might be all it takes to get a buyer over the line.
  • E-bike leasing – offering staff electric bicycles instead of cars as part of a salary package.
  • E-bike subsidies – because e-bikes are seen to get people out of cars, some European cities and countries are offering hundreds of dollars off the price of a new e-bike.

We’ll keep you updated on Health by Stealth’s progress and whether there’s a chance for bike riders to help them out.