Interesting fact

In order to encourage change towards sustainable modes of transport, different types of rewards should be used in different situations rather than a single type of reward for all situations.

Here, we provide some information to help to develop a successful scheme that use rewards to promote sustainable transport.

Who should be rewarded

If you aim for behavioral change, people are rewarded to change their ‘bad’ behavior. Is this fair towards people that already show good behavior? Distinguish therefore between car users and people that already use sustainable travel options regularly. For sufficient support, the latter group should not be neglected.

Goal setting

Rewards are provided when the participant achieves a certain goal or challenge. Most effective are goals that people can set themselves. In other words, let people choose their own challenges ranging from easy to difficult. Challenges should be concrete. For example, if you want to promote cycling, include a cycling frequency and provide a duration of the challenge.

Random or fixed rewards

A onetime distribution of goodies such as buttons is useful to attract participants for campaigns. Large random prizes in lotteries are effective to recruit car users to participate in incentive schemes.  Random rewards are however less effective in committing people to fulfill specific challenges. For this, they need fixed rewards upon completion of the challenge.

Rewarding frequency

When starting behavior change, continuous challenges with rewards are advised. The height of those rewards is discussed below, but is such that it stimulates gradual change. Commitment to a drastic change in behavior is hard, and people tend to choose tasks that only require relatively little change. Therefore, behavior change should be increased step by step. When participants reach the stage that they use sustainable travel options regularly, it is hard to sustain continuous rewarding. Adopt partial rewarding in this stage. Participants get challenges now and then, and upon completion get higher rewards which can also be random. This type of rewarding can also be used among travelers that already use sustainable travel options regularly, yielding public support for the scheme.

Money or goods

Money is often not considered as a good way to promote sustainable transport.  For commuters with travel budget issues, monetary incentives are however attractive. Monetary incentives can also be easily deployed into financial schemes for employees (for example in Helsinki). In general, however, goods can be as effective or even more effective when the reward is presented as a gift and / or when people can choose between goods. Use this type of reward if third parties like shops want to sponsor the rewarding scheme. For promoting public transport free PT cards or discounts are probably most effective, particularly among commuters.

How to sustain change

In all cases, it may be hard to sustain the rewarding scheme over a longer period of time. It is therefore useful to consider these rewarding schemes in trials where travelers try and learn about sustainable travel options. Make sure that these options are viable alternatives which people were previously unaware of. Also, trials should be long enough, i.e. weeks or even months, to give people enough time to get used to the alternatives.

Height of monetary reward for (initiating) behavior change

The height of continuous rewards should be in the range of a few euro per commute (back and forth). When promoting active transport, this should depend on distance as longer trips take more effort and should be rewarded accordingly. Experience shows that rewards ideally range between 1 euro per short trip (only a few kilometers) to 5 euro per long cycling trip (up to 20 km, beyond this distance active transport is less of an option).  For lower rewards, fewer people tend to use the car less, higher rewards probably don’t lead to much extra change in the long term and only increase the costs.