“All the people we seek money from drive cars and whenever we talk to them, they think about what I call the ‘personal filter effect,’” Horst says. “But we hope to get TravelSmart on the city-wide scale because we’ve built a (transportation) system that we can’t afford to maintain and people are still trying to expand it. It takes a huge pot of money to fix potholes.
“At the same time, it’s really hard to ask your city purse-string holders to invest in a full-scale project that they’ve never heard of especially when they think that Global Warming and Peak Oil are someone else’s concerns.”
There’s more than one “Catch 22” in seeking funds for a marketing project which has no place to hang the sign, “Your tax dollars at work.” First, the decisions must be made locally to benefit primarily national and international problems, so local thinkers must try to get dollars from state and federal governments in an odd “earmark” from which the sponsoring politician receives no identifiable photo opportunity.
Secondly, as much as 35 percent of any travel change moves into muscle-powered transportation and carpooling also climbs significantly which decreases funding possibilities from transit companies. Finally, politicians, knowing that political leadership is often defined as “figuring out which way the parade is going and getting in front” can’t lead when the parade doesn’t form. And the parade can’t form until the politicians and media spread the word and individuals realize that “I” am part of the problem.
Again, Western Australia provides an answer.
Perth’s first pilot project snuck into the budget because politicians thought “TravelSmart” was a type of high-tech electronics – like better coordination between stop lights — which would instantly make all drivers, like themselves, happier. When the success became apparent, TravelSmart operators got politicians to sign the letters accompanying the delivery of the free backpacks and water bottles so that citizens began to see themselves as doing something good and being praised, and physically rewarded, for it by area politicians.
Today, all written contact comes from state and local politicians.
“We started out under a Liberal (the Republican equivalent) state government and for the past several years, it’s been Labor (or Democratic) so we’ve survived and grown through a change in governments,” explains Colin Ashton-Graham, who is leading TravelSmart’s migration into energy, water and recycling.
“Interestingly, the people give credit to the city, to the government, for the changes they’ve made. They don’t say, ‘I did it,’ even if that person is personally driving a lot less. They tell politicians, ‘What a wonderful thing you’ve done.’”
In the end, Western Australia is expanding TravelSmart as fast it can because, as Ker says, “it works” on all levels.
“People like it, so politically it’s good ‘no news,’” he says. “There’s no element of compulsion and for people who change their travel behavior, they get to feel better and to save money.