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Leisure travel offers mobility lessons


Alistair Kirkbride
26 October 2018
A continuum between utilitarian and ‘undirected’ travel (modified from Mokhtarian & Salomon, 2001)
A continuum between utilitarian and ‘undirected’ travel (modified from Mokhtarian & Salomon, 2001)


Just pause for a moment and think about your last holiday or visit to a National Park. How did you get around? How did this compare with your routine day-to-day ways of travelling? It may seem like a different world from the frenetic global mobility disruptions, but just maybe these aren’t as far apart as we think. 

To what extent did getting on that shuttle bus, renting that bike or walking to the shop change your views on public transport or active travel for the other 48 weeks of the year? I’d suggest that we don’t  know the answer to this, but it might just be worth peeking at the question through new mobility goggles.

One of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF)?case studies slipped out via the DfT last month1 looked in detail at the programmes targeting visitor travel in the Lake District, New Forest and South Downs National Parks. These programmes were targeted at changing visitor travel behaviour, primarily to reduce the impact on the protected environments while enhancing visitor experience. Before-after visitor travel surveys in the Lake District indicated (with big provisos) a whopping 14.5% reduction in visitor car mileage over three years. While this is great for the protected landscape, the valuable mobility story is around people’s changed willingness to alter how they travel when they are away from their day-to-day lives. If we look at this through the lens of recognised changes in how the population is travelling and new mobility, we could consider it to be people “sampling” different travel behaviours.

The 2011 Finding New Solutions research2 found that asking people to cycle to work or for other utility purposes was not as effective as introducing them to the idea of cycling as a leisure activity. Cycling England’s work on how to get more people cycling wanted to explore whether asking people to cycle to work or for other utility purposes was more or less effective as introducing them to the idea of cycling as a leisure activity. 

There was an emphasis on leisure cycling in various Cycle Demonstration Town and LSTF programmes – not (just) to promote the benefits of cycling, but to condition people to be more open to cycle for utility journeys.

Mobility mainly focusses (implicitly) on routine lifestyles and utility travel such as getting to work, going shopping, etc. The idea of travel as a derived demand – where the need or desire to reach a destination explains the reason for making a journey – largely underpins transport planning. In this context, we seek explanations for the evidenced reductions in number of trips or distance that people travel in terms of less need or desire to have to get somewhere else to do something; social media connects us to other people, working from home and home deliveries means cars gathering more dust more often.

But let’s look at the broader range of reasons for people making journeys. The figure below suggests a spectrum between people travelling to get somewhere (utility) and purely for the sake of travelling (undirected). It has been suggested that more undirected travel may account for up to half of some people’s total travel. This gets interesting for two reasons.

Firstly, what does it mean for how we look at the trends in how people are travelling? The Commission for Travel Demand’s All Change research3 provides a compelling picture of changing behaviour. 

So, let’s stir together these trends (accepting their complexity and nuances). Are people not having to do as much utilitarian travel (home working, home delivery, etc)? Do people just not like travelling for the sake of it as much (the demise of the ‘Sunday driver’)? Or do people value the time to do other stuff while travelling that can’t be done whilst driving (interacting via social media replacing listening to the radio)?

Secondly, it’s quite clear from the national park LSTF programmes that people are being exposed to, and trying out, all sorts of modes that aren’t part of their normal routines. The car club vehicles with bike racks available from the rail stations are becoming a common sight around the Lake District and bike hire is booming thge in most National Parks.

How does this influence the users’ attitudes and openness to different modes when they get back home? Put another way, can the Finding New Solutions leisure-cycling-to-utility-cycling idea be applied more broadly – to public transport or car clubs? 

The exposure, and ‘try-out’, of new ways of making journeys overcomes two big barriers to travel behaviour change programmes, namely familiarity with a mode, and social identity. To what extent do visitors mixing with ‘people like me’ while using a bus or bike when on holiday change their attitudes to these as relevant to them when they get back home? 

Although it is fairly well understood how our day-to-day travel behaviour influences our leisure travel choices, there is precious little research looking at this issue the other way around. 

Some work is currently taking place looking at this as part of the DfT Access Fund project on visitors to the Isle of Wight. National Parks – and most significant visitor areas – have a pretty good understanding of where their visitors live, and increasingly of their segmented profiles. 

The ideas raised here suggest that there might just be an untapped vein of opportunity to use this intelligence to open new avenues for making behaviour change work better when the visitors get back home. There are many routes to ‘new mobility’ including travel behaviour change programmes (often tackling low-efficiency car dependency) and the magnet of new types of transport services that are relentlessly emerging. 

Whatever the route, new mobility relies, in the short to medium term, on people trying new services and working out how they fit into their lifestyles. Acknowledging that this might be easier to do when people are away from their routines might open up all sorts of new avenues for service development and partnerships.

There have been significant benefits of the National Park LSTF programmes on the national parks themselves. In terms of the two main purposes of UK National Parks, they have helped in reducing the impact of visitor travel on the protected landscapes and created better visitor experiences of the landscape. But perhaps the most significant value from a mobility perspective may be in how their visitors are being conditioned to be more open to different ways of travelling when they get back home.

 As it has been estimated that over one-third of the UK adult population visit a national park each year, there is potentially a pretty good hit rate. Maybe the mobility world should start looking at National Parks and other visitor areas not in terms of site-based schemes appraisals and benefit-cost ratios but as crucibles for nurturing different attitudes to how people travel distant from their boundaries.  

1 https://tinyurl.com/yavhes5z

2 https://tinyurl.com/y98aeyhw

3 https://tinyurl.com/jbqz8wl

Alistair Kirkbride is executive director of CoMoUK, which works to maximise the public benefit of collaborative mobility such as shared cars and bikes. 

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