Talk: The temporalities of mode shift: the case of food shopping travel, Giulio Mattioli, Jillian Anable

Abstract for presentation at Behave Energy Conference, Oxford, 3-4 September 2014.

It is increasingly acknowledged that behaviour change is required for a reduction in energy demand, as technological innovation is unlikely to deliver change at an adequate scale and speed. However, a review of energy policy documents shows that the implications of behaviour change for the timing of energy demand are generally overlooked and/or taken for granted. In the transport sector, for example, much policy and research effort has focused on achieving a shift from current energy-demanding, carbon-intensive and car dependent travel patterns to ‘greener’ modes such as public transport and active travel. However, different transport modes are likely to correspond to rather different ways of incorporating activities in the daily- and weekly-schedule, and this has been poorly taken into account. This is problematic since both a significant modal shift and the electrification of the vehicle fleet are likely to have serious implications for issues of peak-demand on the electricity grid. On the other hand, entrenched ways of scheduling activities might be an important reason for the reluctance of households to ‘give up the car’. Indeed, car use is often considered to be more ‘convenient’ because it allows flexible, spontaneous and frequent travel at any time of day. In other cases, however, it might allow households to concentrate activities in time. The case of food shopping provides a clear illustration of this. Indeed, the car allows shoppers to carry more (heavy) goods with them. This in turn makes it possible to reduce the number of shopping runs to a single (bi-) weekly ‘bulk shopping’ trip, possibly on weekends and to a larger and more distant supermarket. By contrast, it is reasonable to assume that non-car users do smaller and more frequent runs to nearby shops. While these arguments are appealing, there is currently only limited quantitative evidence on this relationship. In this paper we aim to fill this gap, based on a secondary analysis of the latest release of the National Travel Survey (NTS), that includes a one-week travel diary for a representative sample of the British population. We use various data analysis techniques to assess how the timing and frequency of food shopping vary according to transport mode. The findings provide broad support for the initial hypothesis, but interestingly also suggest a more nuanced view of the temporalities of food shopping. We conclude by reflecting on the implications of these findings for sustainable transport policies aiming to modal shift and the diffusion of electric vehicles. Finally, on a theoretical level, we suggest that crucial factors such as timing and the portability of objects are overlooked in behaviourist approaches to sustainability. As an alternative, we discuss our results in the context of sustainable practice theories, where such factors are better taken into account.

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