Abou-Zeid, M., Ben-Akiva, M., and Bierlaire, M. (2008)

Happiness and travel behavior modification

European Transport Conference, Leiden, The Netherlands

We develop and test a new approach for measuring travel well-being that accounts for the routine nature of travel. We postulate that when people are in a routine, they don’t fully consider their travel happiness. Only when people evaluate their options and reconsider their decisions will they think of their travel happiness. Consequently, a travel happiness measure collected at the time of decision-making might be a more relevant measure of their happiness that correlates better with behavior. To test this hypothesis, an experiment was conducted at three employment centers in Switzerland requiring habitual car drivers to switch temporarily to public transportation for their commute to work. The idea is that after the public transportation trial, the participants would think of their happiness as they reconsider their mode choice decisions. Participants’ travel happiness, perceptions, attitudes, and mode choice were measured before and after the intervention. Two main findings emerged from the analysis: first, the measures of happiness with the commute by car collected before and after the public transportation trial were significantly different, with generally a greater happiness with car reported after the experiment. Using the happiness measures as additional indicators of utility, a greater correlation was found between utility and the “after” measure, which supports the hypothesis that the measure of travel happiness collected when people evaluate their options is a more relevant measure for situations involving decision-making than that collected when people are in a routine. The implications for the measurement of well-being could apply to other domains involving routine behavior. Second, a number of participants continued to commute by public transportation after the required trial, which suggests that a temporary change in behavior might be effective in inducing behavioral modification or at least in affecting people’s choice sets. This has policy implications for public transportation agencies or institutions that are trying to encourage car drivers to shift to public transportation.