Driving out cars

Car usage fell by 14 per cent in Perth simply by convincing people

Published: Wednesday 31 October 2001

the concept of "individualised marketing" is simple. Households are contacted and offered advice about journeys they make. If they are interested, they can get information and personalised timetables by post or a telephone hotline, or a home visit from a consultant who analyses the trips they make and suggests alternatives to the car -- walking, cycling or public transport.

This is exactly what Socialdata, a German-based consultancy, claims to have done in Perth. It developed the idea and spent 10 years looking for a city to experiment in before the government of western Australia agreed to try it in Perth. An initial trial in 1997 of more than 800 households in south Perth showed a 10 per cent drop in car journeys, with a significant shift to public transport and cycling.

In 2000, western Australia's department of Planning and Infrastructure extended the project to 8,000 households in South Perth, with even better results. Car journeys and mileage fell 14 per cent. This cost us $ 680,000 including new bus stops in the suburbs, printed material and surveys. Socialdata found that only 20 per cent of journeys in Perth were made by "green modes" -- public transport, walking and cycling. In 60 per cent of journeys, people either did not need their cars, or had adequate alternatives.

According to Werner Brg, Socialdata's founder and managing director, earlier transportation policies tried to fix public transport but Socialdata fixes the mindset of the people. Brg attributes the success of the programme to its 'non-Stalinist approach'. "People are not stopped from making journeys; they are never told to stop using their cars; and the project stresses how even tiny changes, say, one journey a week, can make a big difference," he adds.

Western Australia plans to extend the scheme to all 600,000 residents in Perth. Brisbane, another city in Australia, is also running a trial along the same lines. The success of the Perth project persuaded the international public transport union to hold a series of trials in Europe. Socialdata is also exploring how "individualised marketing" can be used for energy, water, waste disposal and other applications.

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