Persuasive technology and direct messaging for achieving modal shift in urban areas

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Institute for Transport Studies


Climate change is a major energy challenge for cities. This project will design and test a digital intervention that will make urban transport (and hence cities) more sustainable through addressing end user demand and steering it to lower energy transport modes. These modes also have other advantages, for air quality improvement and increasing physical activity, which are also significant urban policy challenges with large-scale public health implications. Urban congestion also undermines the economic performance of cities and reduces quality of place and residents' well-being. Therefore, the digital intervention trial will be sufficiently large to enable the results to be used in a whole-systems analysis of the impact on transport energy use and interlinked factors at city-scale. As part of systems analysis, the project will also gather qualitative data on the situated practices in which car-commuting is embedded (such as tacit or explicit employer expectations or household-level constraints) and shaped by local transport attributes and policies. The digital intervention will be tested in Edinburgh, where discussion with the Regional Transport Partnership (RTP) has indicated a need to address car commuting by the staff of large employers. The RTP has indicated a willingness to provide in-kind support this project, including short periods of time working alongside their officers and facilitating access to key stakeholders. The successful candidate will be expected to identify a second trial city during the early months of the study.

The project will build on success of the results emerging from an EPSRC LWEC Challenge project led by the supervisor, Dr Kate Pangbourne (ADAPT). ADAPT is creating a dataset of existing travel behavior change communications, analyzing the content from an argumentation and discourse perspective and testing the principal arguments experimentally to uncover whether travel attitudes or personality affect the likely effectiveness of the commonly used arguments for travel behavior change. The PhD topic will build on existing knowledge by designing a message delivery and modal tracking digital tool to enable the testing of promising forms of argumentation in a real-world context. The objectives of this part of the project are:

1) to show whether intrinsic motivations to make individual travel mode choices more sustainable can be stimulated and supported using simple personalized arguments; and
2) to measure the effect on actual travel behavior using a randomized control trial approach in two cities.
The project approach is intended to be highlight interdisciplinary and will develop the student's knowledge and skills in synthesizing insights across the following fields: mobile and persuasive technology, the psychology and practice of behavior change, statistics, trial evaluation, qualitative methodologies, systems analysis and transport planning and policy.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R513258/1 30/09/2018 29/09/2023
2282787 Studentship EP/R513258/1 30/09/2019 29/09/2022 Rosie Samuel