Author Archives: Federico Giorgilli

Neo-classical economics, imperfect choices and travel demand modelling

According to neo-classical economics, people make rational decisions based on costs and benefits, and a monetary value can be ascribed to each aspect of the decision-making process. These social cost-benefit analyses and the models associated with them have long influenced projects and policy appraisal in transport. But are they really accurate in their assessments?

Youth_on_train_tracksThe problem is that people are not always perfectly rational and their decisions are not always based on straightforward cost-benefit trade-offs. For instance, people have been shown to react to seemingly irrelevant information, and to be sensitive to social pressures. Yet four-step models based on neo-classical thinking continue to be the models predominantly used to understand the decision-making process. There do exist other models that better reflect the complexity of people’s thinking, such as hybrid choice models and activity-based models. Hybrid choice models include non-rational elements in the decision-making process, such as habit, ignorance, beliefs, attitudes and social norms. Activity-based models are based on the activities for which trips are made and can therefore reflect, to give one example, the constraints of family life on the mobility decisions of individual household members. Yet, as explained in A survey of transport planners, four-step models remain the models of choice for transport decision-making.

Behavioural economics tries to give a more holistic picture by looking at how people are affected by contextual elements in their decision making and how peer pressure affects their behaviour. It is also remarkably difficult to change habits and so the best time to nudge people towards behavioural change is when they are already going through some kind of transition such as a job change, getting married or having children. That said, this reluctance to change could be mitigated somewhat by dependable, multi-modal travel information, which would give travellers an array of options that they otherwise might not be aware of. This and other changes to today’s mobility will require new theories and new models that are capable of analysing mobility decisions in all their complexity. The MIND-SETS approach, guidelines and Knowledge Centre, will offer insights that could potentially pave the way towards these new theories and models.

For more information, contact Laurent Franckx of VITO

Defining mobility in a changing world

Planes, trains and status symbols

car_hood_upMobility. A word that conjures up movement, that implies freedom, access and opportunity. In many ways, it is our mobility that defines us, that influences our relationships and determines the image people have of us. We talk about the level of our mobility – where we’ve been and where we’re going – to assert our status and begin a conversation. Mobility in the modern age traverses both the physical world and the virtual one. Not only do we document our physical mobility in virtual spaces by posting our locations and pictures on Facebook (among other things), but we also create virtual networks, virtual spaces, virtual worlds on social networks that are then reinforced through physical, face-to-face contact – we text walking in the street and we navigate on our computers. The appetite for mobility in all of its dimensions seems to be endless.

New travel patterns

For better or worse, richer or poorer, in today’s Europe, mobility dominates lifestyle. While local trips are more prevalent than long-distance ones, people are traveling further than they used to. Migration continues from both outside the EU and within the EU, with an increase in migration from the south to the north, because of the economic crisis. There is also migration from north to south, for tourism and retirement. The growth in car ownership that has dominated mobility for the last half century is now reversing in many EU countries. An increasing number of cities in Europe are seeing car use decline; although in post-communist countries, it continues to increase. Particularly among younger generations, there is a new appetite for renting and sharing mobility as the status of the car is replaced by the latest iPhone or tablet. For longer journeys, more Europeans show an increasing preference for high speed, inter-city rail travel between the major urban centres and for cheaper air travel on ‘low cost’ airlines; serving a denser network of airports across the continent. People’s thirst for more mobility is unrelenting, be it a trip across the city to a trip across the continent; a text message to a friend while walking down the street or an international conference call. While car ownership is no longer the mark of social status, the social status of mobility is stronger than ever.

Conclusion: The four arcs of the behavioural rainbow

There are different schools of thought on how people make decisions regarding their mobility. Traditionalists see decision-making as a rational process, a series of trade-offs between time and costs: However, it is increasingly clear that there is more going on. Understanding this deeper process holds the key to unlock the reasons why people make seemingly irrational mobility decisions, and why some new mobility services succeed and others fail.


Each ring of the rainbow represents a series of factors that define the role of mobility in people’s lives and how this dynamic is changing with the generations (read more about generational differences).

The outer ring describes the decision making itself – the trading-off of different factors. The next ring describes the perceptual filter of attitudes that shape our perceptions, preferences and levels of importance that we attach to elements of the decision-making process. Much work has been undertaken to understand these two rings. However, less has been achieved in trying to understand how these more translucent factors that influence our mobility relate to deeper values and beliefs that we have. These deeper factors drive our lifestyle and the role mobility takes within it. It involves the strong social forces that impact on all of us in shaping how we live our lives – defining our identity and the personality we project, the fashions that attract us, trends, social attachment and social exclusion. Understanding these deeper values leads to the centre of the rainbow and to our real personality – the behavioural DNA with which we interact with our environment; and with which we decide and we learn from experience.

It is when we take all of these elements together that we are able to develop a more holistic vision of mobility and the influences that shape the mobility decisions we make, a vision that we call the MIND-SETS approach.

For more information, contact Laurie Pickup of VECTOS

MIND-SETS Newsletter 1 released

MIND-SETS_newsletter_1_screenshotThe first MIND-SETS newsletter has been released. It gives an introduction to the project and explains what sets it apart from other mobility-related studies. The way that new technologies, such as social media, have transformed transport behaviour is also discussed. Readers have the option of taking the MIND-SETS questionnaire on tools and models for mobility decision-making or the Delphi survey on mobility-related issues. They can also find out more about the expert workshop that took place recently in Barcelona.

The newsletter has already been shared on the CIVITAS website and their LinkedIn page, where it was pointed out that MIND-SETS is raising some important issues regarding user behaviour.

Read it for yourself and join the debate!

The MIND-SETS Delphi survey

The first round of a Delphi survey on automated, seamless, virtual and inclusive mobility has been completed. The full survey will be conducted in two rounds with around 500 experts. Results from the first round have been circulated among the respondents, so that they can consider others’ opinions when providing answers in the second round. Rather than consensus building, the goal at this point was to highlight discrepancies that were then discussed at the workshop in Barcelona.

The conclusions from the Delphi survey and the workshops will be used to create the MIND-SETS guidelines and Knowledge Centre (the MSKC). The guidelines and the MSKC will be designed to help practitioners make better decisions regarding mobility, decisions that take user behaviour and psychology into consideration. These conclusions will be available to the public on our website.

Experts discuss mobility at the MIND-SETS Barcelona workshop

Barcelona_workshop_photo1On October 29-30 in Barcelona, MIND-SETS held a workshop on transport technologies and human behaviour. For the first time the project was opened up to the outside, involving external expertise to better understand mobility mind-sets for different groups of people and different generations as our societies move into the digital age. It was limited to approximately 40 high-level experts coming from well-known universities, research institutes and consulting firms from across Europe. The lively debate was structured in plenary sessions to explain various aspects of the project to the participants and parallel sessions on four topics representing the key challenges of future mobility for users, decision takers and product and service providers: mobility automation; new appraisal methodologies for seamless mobility; smart and virtual mobility; and mobility inclusion and sustainability. Each session analysed the topic in light of the MIND-SETS concept: consider the user/people and not just technology.

The conclusions from each session will be used to create the MIND-SETS guidelines and Knowledge Centre, designed to help practitioners make better decisions regarding mobility, ones that take into consideration user behaviour and psychology. These conclusions will be available to the public on our website.