BCG Henderson Institute

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When choosing a way to travel from one location to another, people don’t always opt for the logical solution—the one that is quickest, most convenient, least expensive. That’s true even when they are presented with evidence of efficiency and even when they are offered perks like reduced pricing. Personal feelings and biases influence their decisions.

That’s one reason why people in cities around the world have been reluctant to leave their personal vehicles behind and travel via public transit and new-mobility options, like ride sharing, ride pooling, and free-floating (sometimes electrified) bikes and scooters. And this is despite the fact that these travel modes can be faster, cheaper, and more convenient—and address the urgent challenges of traffic congestion, pollution, safety, and unequal access to mobility in cities worldwide. The personal car remains the top choice for commuting even in congested cities where more convenient and sustainable options exist. In Paris, for instance, 43% of commuters rely on personal cars while 20% use public transportation; in Boston, the split is 73% versus 14%; in Jakarta, it’s 78% versus 20%. Meanwhile, the average occupancy rate of a personal car is just 1.54 people per trip in the US, where every car spends 95% of its lifetime parked, according the US Department of Transportation.

To improve uptake, new-mobility operators have looked at the practical shortcomings of their offerings and attempted to overcome them—optimizing timing and improving user interfaces, for instance. But they have not taken into account the seemingly irrational behaviors, based in social norms and cognitive biases, that work against the new mobility.

Public authorities and new-mobility operators need to understand these powerful factors in order to combat them and encourage different behavior. Changing behaviors is difficult, and in the midst—and the aftermath—of COVID-19, it could turn out to be even more complex. But the problems that new-mobility options aim to tackle are not going away. Though the postpandemic outlook is not yet clear, public authorities and new-mobility operators will need to address existing and new challenges to help shape the new reality.

  • Joël Hazan

    Alum Fellow (2018-2020), Future of Mobility

  • Benjamin Fassenot

    Alum Ambassador (2019-2020), Future of Mobility

  • Ammar Malik

    Director of Harvard Kennedy School Evidence for Policy Design Research

  • Joanna Moody

    Research Program Manager for the MIT Energy Initiative’s Mobility Systems Center

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