The problem: In the UK each year, 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Local authorities are now expected to encourage active travel (such as walking, cycling and public transport) and a shift away from using cars for short journeys.
ICE recently partnered with a council who wanted to reduce air pollution within their locality by promoting active travel amongst people who use their cars for short journeys, such as for the school run. In particular, the local authority was interested in understanding why people chose to use their cars for short school runs so that they could create a campaign which would encourage them to change.
What did we do? ICE conducted insight groups with parents and grandparents who use their car for the school run, to explore why they use the car currently and to help the local authority to understand what will make 'people like them' change.
Why do people use cars for the school run? Using the car to take kids to school was perceived to be easier and more convenient than other transport options. Getting kids to school on time in the mornings is stressful and driving was seen as a way to maintain control over the situation - with kids happier to take the car, less likely to misbehave and more likely to be on time for school.
“It’s to make sure you get there on time, because 9 times out of 10 you’re either late getting up or the kids won’t eat their breakfast so it’s one mad rush in the morning.”
“I feel good that I’m dropping her off to school…at least I know she gets there.”
Other methods of transport were generally perceived negatively as being not safe, not as convenient and more expensive than driving. Together, this contributed to a perception that driving was the only option that they had.
When asked to describe their morning school run, parents were overwhelmingly negative, describing the morning school run as being: “hectic”, a “nightmare”, a “rush”, “chaos”, “crazy” and “stressful”.
For one parent, the school run was only a 5 minute journey, yet it took them 10-15 minutes to park. This inconvenience and wasted time was, however, discounted when compared to the perceived convenience of taking the car.
A clear disconnect emerged between parents’ perception of using the car for the school run and their lived experience of doing so.
This disconnect needs to be addressed to help parents to see that other methods of travel are less stressful than the realities of using the car. Routine behaviours, such as mode of daily travel, are deeply embedded in our lives. People will, therefore, tend not to weigh up the positives and negatives before making a journey and so may assume the car is more convenient, when in reality that might not be the case.
What would we recommend based on this insight? From the insight we gained, ICE would recommend a campaign which aims to get parents to ‘leave the car at home’, with a focus on kids getting healthy and physically active. Although the overall aim would be to reduce levels of air pollution, this was not a salient issue with the target audience and so messaging around air pollution may not change their behaviour, whereas parents had been influenced by messaging about health and physical activity of their children in the past.
Any campaign messaging should address the disconnect between perceived and actual experience of taking the car. Importantly, by taking part in the campaign, parents will begin to see the benefits of other modes of transport for themselves.
Our insights told us that kids can influence their parents' behaviour, so a campaign which uses ‘pester power’ (kids pestering their parents) could be effective. Competition, rewards and the idea of a challenge could be a good way to engage both kids and their parents.
The insights told us that schools would be a good messenger for the campaign, because it would make the campaign seem official and schools could communicate both with kids and their parents.
Finally, the insights suggested that a campaign which focuses on people making a small change, such as using the car for the school run in the morning but not the evening, could help to make other transport behaviours normal and routine.
For more information, contact Dr Emma Mackley on 0151 647 4700 or at firstname.lastname@example.org