Today, working out of an imposing 1860 convict-built prison, Brog’s TravelSmart crew spends hours on the phone to Perth-area citizens. Instructed carefully not to formally market, and indeed to talk about pretty much anything in, first of all, making a personal connection, TravelSmart callers conclude each initial phone call by asking if the household used, or would consider using, alternative transportation.
If the answer is “no,” the caller hangs up and the person is only bothered by a mailing explaining the importance of a tuned automobile engine and fully aired tires. If the answer is “yes” or “maybe,” that household is marketed with a huge variety of information based on the location of the household and where its members need to go and when.
Respondents can get, for example, the exact schedule for the nearest bus stop, plus a free transit starter pass; a bike map plus a discount at the closest bicycle shop; a walking tour of the neighborhood and the nearest downtown; a free pedometer. Basically, though the package differs from project to project, respondents receive whatever they think might help them chose any mode of transportation other than the single occupancy vehicle for any regular trip.
That information is delivered by a dedicated environmentalist on a bicycle and then, if desired, expanded on by a home visit from an area bus driver. A respondent can be individually marketed as many as 12 times through personal visits, telephone calls, thank you backpacks and water bottles, and letters. TravelSmart does not use email or computers in its marketing, or in before and after surveys, because, Brög says, the “personal touch” is key.
“We do everything for the good of the respondent,” Brög explains. “We ring back to 80, 90 percent and clarify every detail. We provide feedback. We say, ‘Great, thanks, but there’s one little thing missing.’ Then, we’ve started a relationship with that household. When that relationship exists, you can do things that you could never do in the beginning.”
With a stunning response around the world to the initial, pre-marketing survey – as much as 90 percent of, for example, 65,000 people in Western Europe – TravelSmart mines the initial data by getting some 10 percent of respondents to do a one-day travel diary and then gets another ten percent of those to agree to in-depth, face-to-face interviews. In this manner, researchers can compare actual alternative transportation experiences with area-wide perceptions and suggest, for example, what infrastructure improvements will give transportation planners the most bang for the buck.
The follow-up survey, in the same neighborhoods as the marketing — but not necessarily the same people as the initial survey or the marketed households — indicates that people who have changed their auto behavior become apostles for change. In some 250 projects over three continents, including four pilots in the United States and full-scale work in Portland and Vancouver, Travelsmart programs have averaged decreasing driving better then eight percent annually.
The cost, comparatively, is so negligible that the United Kingdom announced plans last fall for a nationwide project similar to TravelSmart at the equivalent cost of building 17 miles of interstate highway.
In Bellingham, Washington, Susan Horst at the Whatcom Council of Governments and Whatcom Transit Authority’s Maureen McCarthy have spent the past two years seeking funds to further their 2004 pilot and expand on “SmartTrips,” a travel demand management derivative of the original pilot. Bellingham’s pilot showed that 14 percent of the travel change moved into transit but McCarthy, WTA’s marketing manager, believes the more substantial profit was building a stronger sense of community.
“What about the benefit of seeing your neighbors when you walk to the stops and meet people on the bus? How do you measure that?” she asks. “You can, very easily, if you’re always attached to your car, carry around the wrong idea. It seems like all the folks who tried us found some way of saying that ‘It wasn’t as scary as I thought.’”
In spite of a $70,000 mobility study of Whatcom County, and an increase in WTA ridership of 27 percent last year, lawmakers have not found the funds to further individualized marketing.