Scoping review on modal shift from cars to alternative modes of transportation (2010-2020)

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About the project

This project answers the question: What are the primary modal shift strategies discussed in the literature in the past 10 years? Our research aims to analyze the impacts of each of the strategies in the literature. Our scoping review is intended to capture the current state of the scientific literature on modal shift from cars to alternative modes of transportation. The goal was to synthesize this scholarly knowledge so that conclusions could be drawn for future research and public policy aimed at reducing dependence on cars.

We reviewed 2,872 research papers published between 2010 and 2020 and selected 108 for further in-depth analysis. We sorted interventions intended to produce a modal shift into five categories: A) entrenched daily habits of drivers; B) values, preferences and lifestyles; C) the impact of economic tools such as public transit pricing or externalities of automobiles; D) the effects of available public transit options and how that infrastructure is distributed; and E) the effects related to land use planning and residential location.

Key findings

  • More than two thirds of the research reported positive results for a modal shift from cars toward alternative mobility options.
  • The number of scientific publications on modal shifts has increased significantly, particularly between 2014 and 2017.
  • There were very few qualitative or even mixed (both quantitative and qualitative) studies in the reviewed literature. Qualitative research on modal shifts should be encouraged to provide more insight on what incentivizes and disincentivizes modal shift.
  • There is little research on entrenched daily habits of drivers and land use planning, even though most research on habit‑related interventions reported positive impacts. More research must be encouraged into both of these kinds of intervention, which are also quite popular with urban and transportation planners.
  • Certain transportation policy measures are understudied. In particular, park and ride, mobility as a service (MaaS) and group or shared rides (carpooling and carsharing) are almost completely missing from the literature. However, these emerging methods of transportation are a frequent topic of conversation in the political sphere, so it is essential for transportation researchers to take a closer look at the potential for modal shift from these kinds of policies.
  • Only 6% of the scientific literature we reviewed included field studies conducted in Canada, and these studies were only in Quebec and Ontario. Given the diversity of major Canadian cities and the large number of small and medium cities across the country, we urge our fellow researchers and funders to study a more diverse selection of Canadian cases.

Policy implications

  • As over two thirds of the research reported positive impacts, we believe that it is possible to implement public policies that will produce a modal shift and reduce our dependence on cars.
  • We note that almost all research (92%) on active transportation found it to be successful. With such enormous potential for success, cities should be encouraged to attempt interventions seeking a modal shift to active transportation.
  • We analyzed the degree of coercion in the reviewed studies and found that “carrot” measures that provide a benefit have more success than “stick” measures (pricing, tolls, reduced parking spaces), which seek to restrict choices. However, the most positive results came from mixed “carrot + stick” approaches. More research should be dedicated to these types of interventions, and public officials should look into how a combination of “carrot” and “stick” could have a positive impact on modal shift. Funders could also make this a criterion for grants.

Further information

Read the full report (in French)

Contact the researchers

Dominic Villeneuve, PhD (he/him), adjunct professor, faculty of planning, architecture, art and design, Université Laval; and member, Centre de recherche en aménagement et développement (planning and development research centre):

The other researchers, associate professors Jean Dubé and Alexandre Lebel and research assistants Pierre-Paul Audate and Maxime Chamberland, are also all members of the Centre de recherche en aménagement et développement.

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, Infrastructure Canada or the Government of Canada.

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