Saturday, May 10, 2008

Have we reached a tipping point?

Today's New York Times has a story on the increase in ridership of mass transit in some unexpected places. The increase in gas costs are causing people to trade as Houston accountant Michael Brewer said "“Finally I was ready to trade my independence for the savings,” while waiting for a bus.

The Times article explore other drivers to mass transit

Other factors may be driving people to mass transit, too. Wireless computers turn travel time into productive work time, and more companies are offering workers subsidies to take buses or trains. Traffic congestion is getting worse in many cities, and parking more expensive.

Michael Brewer, an accountant who had always driven the 36-mile trip to downtown Houston from the suburb of West Belford, said he had been thinking about switching to the bus for the last two years. The final straw came when he put $100 of gas into his Pontiac over four days a couple of weeks ago.

Financial incentives are extremely powerful in changing behavior, and as drivers they are often referred to as what MIT Economist Dan Ariely calls "Market Norms" however repeated experiments reveal that "Social norms" may be even more powerful drivers. I know my consciousness about my own driving comes from my experiences not driving, there is an increased sensitivity of exhaust when I'm behind a tail pipe walking or on my bike than when I'm safely ensconsed in a car. Behind a car on my bike, my breathing is hesitant knowing what the air holds. This awareness establish an empathetic contract that shapes an awareness of my own driving.

I strongly recommend Ariely's book Predicatably Irrational since the findings covered in our research may provide ideas for us to internalize our lifestyle so that we can change it.


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