Context and research questions
Current mobility patterns are still dominated by car use, which accounts for high energy consumption, adverse effects on health, and also contributes significantly to global climate change. In the last years a number of alternative and energy-efficient mobility options have emerged; yet, these still tend to be neglected due to a deep-rooted car dependency.
How can we encourage people to go by bike or walk, use the public transportation system, rely on emerging alternatives such as car-sharing and car-pooling systems or even organize virtual meetings to avoid traveling all together? GoEco! seeks to overcome traditional awareness-raising approaches and, by taking advantage of the wide acceptance of smartphones and tablets, proposes an innovative, community-based approach, directly addressing citizens and their everyday mobility choices.
Aim and objectives
The main objective of GoEco! is to investigate if and how information feedback and social interactions (social comparison and peer pressure) can be effective in fostering changes in personal mobility behavior. Research in social and environmental psychology has in fact shown that one of the most powerful triggers for sustainability transitions lays in providing bottom-up personal feedback and comparison with the behavior and performances of other members of one’s community. Individual feedback and social comparison activate competition and the urge to stand out among peers.
To test these theories in the mobility sector, we created a “living lab” experiment, that is a field study involving real-life users in real-world settings. Between 2016 and 2017 about four hundred users tested the GoEco! and GoEco! Tracker smartphone applications, which tracked their trips and used game elements to challenge them to modify their mobility behavior.
To get a broader understanding of the complex phenomenon of behavior change, the living lab was run both in Canton Ticino and in the City of Zürich. The two regions are very different with respect to the availability of mobility options and in the socio-cultural attitude of the population towards mobility. To get a deeper insight on the users’ perceptions and attitudes, at the end of the field experiment we carried out a survey among the participants. Furthermore, some of them were closely followed by means of individual interviews.
Comparing the data collected between the first and the last monitoring period, GoEco! was able to produce change in individual mobility patterns, reducing both the average energy consumption and the average CO2 emissions per kilometre. However, such a change is only recorded for the following set of travels:
- for “systematic” routes, namely those regularly and frequently carried out;
- and in Ticino: in Zurich we observe a certain increase in walking and use of the bicycle, but statistical analyses show that this could depend on the particular sample of GoEco! active participants, therefore we cannot generalize.
The explanation for these results seems quite straightforward. In Zürich use of public transportation is already very common: cars are only used when no other options are really available, and this is why bringing about a change is more difficult. Furthermore, in general it is easier to change habits on paths that we frequently travel, on whom we know we can produce a benefit that is repeated over time.
The results of the study can be accessed via the research database P3 of the Swiss National Science Foundation: http://p3.snf.ch/project-153743.