The transport sector is responsible for one third of global energy consumption and the volume of emissions is growing rapidly. If climate change is to remain below 2 °C, the percentage of current fossil fuel reserves that should have been taken out of use by 2050 are: coal 82%, gas 49% and oil 33% [1
]. Automobility is the dominant system of mobility for privatized and motorized mobility [2
] and for sustaining a significant carbon lock-in [4
]. Practices of car culture [5
] that are supported by policy, technology and infrastructure [6
] pose a major challenge to both low-carbon mobility transition and social welfare [7
]. For instance, within the European Union the annual cost of automobility is around €500 billion, whereas cycling and walking provide savings worth €24 billion and €66 billion, respectively [7
However, the culture of mobility is evolving globally. The root course of this development is the changing values of citizens. This enables a future less dependent on ownership to be envisioned. Changing values are associated with behavioral changes. The possibility of change is based on the notion that in industrialized societies, people already have food, shelter, educational opportunities and health care—i.e., basic human needs are secured [8
]. Thus, freedom, modernity and speed—the basic narratives associated with car culture—could be reframed [5
] using ways of living that provide increased life satisfaction [11
]. There is also another strong driver: personal health. The use of private cars has recently been limited in various cities in Asia due to health concerns, as well as in Europe, for example, in Paris, Madrid and Oslo. Air pollutants are one of the main sources of premature mortality. They are associated with multiple illnesses including cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer [12
]. People are also moving from ownership to usership because there is little desire to turn cities into car parks. Moreover, the average speed of a vehicle in a major city during the rush hour is around 10–20 km/h [13
]. This speed is the same as one hundred years ago, using horse transport. This is why vehicles are starting to be replaced by trouble-free access and good availability of other forms of mobility. This is demonstrated by the fact that in Germany, ownership of private cars is declining [14
]. In Stockholm, only one in ten 18-year-olds has a driving license [15
]. This trend has also been identified in Helsinki [16
]. Thus, carbon-neutral mobility has already started to evolve and could be associated with several social benefits.
This article seeks to contribute to the behavioral aspects [17
] within demand-side management of low-carbon mobility transitions [19
] that tend to be neglected in favor of technological and economistic explanations and policies [20
]. Finland is an interesting case due to its ambitious climate change mitigation goals. The aim is to halve emissions from transport by 2030 compared to the 2005 levels [22
], and to have introduced carbon-neutral transport and mobility by 2045 [23
]. According to the new Finnish Government, which was formed in June 2019: “The Government’s decisions will put Finland on a path toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2035” [24
]. In Finland, the transport sector is responsible for 17% of energy consumption and around 40% of oil consumption, [25
] resulting in 20% of Finland’s greenhouse gas emissions [26
]. This represents a serious challenge, as nationwide per-capita trips based on walking and cycling (30% of all trips) as well as public transport (7% of all trips), have remained the same between 2010–2016, and private car use is the most dominant form (61% of all trips) [27
]. However, roughly one half of trips made by car were seven kilometers or less [27
], meaning that there is potential for a modal shift or for acceleration of intermodality.
Kivimaa and Temmes [28
] note that policies in Finland have primarily focused on technological change within the private car regime. Thus, the most notable carbon reductions result from an increase in biofuels and improved energy efficiency. Furthermore, Liimatainen et al. [29
] note that a sustainable mobility transition in Finland would be possible with a predominantly technological change, but that if this were the case, then societal improvements in terms of health or savings in energy consumption or non-car use would not be achieved. There would be also a sectoral trade-off: the emissions burden would shift from transport to energy production, potentially almost doubling transport sector emissions [29
As suggested by previous research on low-carbon mobility in Finland [20
], we aim to improve the understanding of values, attitudes and practices in sustainable mobility transitions. This article is based on multidisciplinary research drawing on sociotechnical analysis on sustainability transitions [6
] and social justice [31
] and placed in dialogue with sociopsychological research on well-being and travel satisfaction [17
]. This enables us to provide a more systemic analysis beyond individual choice [6
] with a focus on possibilities and constraints [35
Our article is structured as follows: Following the introduction, we introduce the key literature and concepts we will use in our analysis, as well as the main research questions. Section 3
describes data and methods. Section 4
provides the results by first presenting the quantitative part and then the qualitative part of the analysis. Section 5
discusses the results in relation to previous research. Finally, Section 6
concludes the article.
3. Materials and Methods
The research data is based on a Finnish national survey concerning sustainable behavior. The questionnaire was developed together with the experts from the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra. For this article we used data on mobility choice. As the survey includes both quantitative and qualitative data, we also made the pragmatic choice of applying quantitative and qualitative methods in order to improve the validity of our data.
Our quantitative analysis focuses on variances between different groups of citizens when choosing sustainable mobility, while the qualitative analysis studies the main drivers and key obstacles to choosing sustainable mobility, i.e., the quantitative data depict life satisfaction on a more generic level, while the qualitative data depict how Finnish citizens perceive possibility for a modal shift and the potential strategies for achieving this goal. Figure 1
depicts the research design in more detail.
Data (n = 2052) were collected via a questionnaire in April 2017 by the TNS Gallup Forum panel. The panel was comprised of 40,000 respondents representing the population of Finland (18–79 years of age), excluding Åland. The socio-demographic characteristics of the sample are presented in Table 1
Respondents were asked to respond to eight statements about their mobility habits and routines in everyday life. We also asked them to evaluate their life satisfaction by responding to the proposition: “Generally, I am satisfied with my life”. The response pattern followed a 5-point Likert scale (1 = totally disagree, 5 = totally agree). The eight statements associated with sustainable mobility were as follows:
I walk more often from point A to point B than use a car or public transport.
I reduce the use of my car.
I try to minimize the environmental effects of mobility.
I cycle whenever the weather is good.
I choose public transport even though I have the option to use my own car.
I offer ridesharing with my car.
I’ll probably stop using my own car within the next couple of years.
I am ready to lease my car to a car-sharing service.
Those respondents that had rated their mobility habits and routines in the Likert scale to 4 to 5 (agree or totally agree), were also asked to provide written explanations of their mobility behaviour. The respondents submitted 2335 explanations as to why they considered a specific sustainable mode of transport and mobility to be important to them.
Quantitative analyses of the data were delivered with SPSS. Exploratory factor analysis helped us to understand the structure of variables [74
]. We were interested in learning which items in the set formed coherent subsets that were relatively independent of each other [75
]. We applied the principal axis method. When applying the principal axis method, there is only a minimal dependence between factors. We are aware that this makes it easier to interpret the results but may reduce exemplification of the phenomenon [75
]. After factor analysis, we applied regression analysis—based on factor points—in order to establish whether or not the identified factors could explain the respondents’ life satisfaction.
The qualitative data (written explanations) were analyzed using ATLAS.ti version 8.4.3. (build 1077, release date 24 July 2019, Berlin, Germany), a qualitative data analysis software. The data were analyzed using data-based content analysis as we had not formed any hypotheses [76
]. We did not consider other qualitative methods such as discourse analysis [79
], as the responses were often shorter than sentences, for example, single words such as “health”, “environment”, “savings”, and so on. The method we applied enabled the researcher to describe the meaning of the qualitative data systematically [80
]. The content analysis accurately adhered to the following format: (a) reducing the data, (b) regrouping the data, and (c) interpreting and drawing conclusions based on the data [78
]. We started our analysis by thoroughly reading multiple times the written comments of the respondents. We divided words and phrases into separate areas and reorganized them according to how the expressed views related to previous research on mobility behaviour. Some of the data were discarded at this point due to their irrelevance. As respondents often gave multiple reasons for their activity, therefore the number of categorized answers exceeds the number of responses from the survey question.
5. Discussion and Concluding Remarks
5.1. Life Satisfaction and Modality
According to our quantitative analysis (Table 3
), the sustainable mobility behavior of citizens is characterized by two factors: The first factor, “Limiting use of private cars”, is related to an optimization of using own cars and the second factor, “Giving up private mobility”, refers to social exchange-based access modes. The limited use of private cars significantly predicted an increased life satisfaction of the respondents and is in line with previous research that stresses a high correlation between walking and cycling and life satisfaction [17
]. Our research is more generic compared to previous research that has assessed life satisfaction in specific cities [63
] or during specific activity, such as commuting [61
]. However, regardless of geographical scope, this appears to be consistent phenomena. Studies that apply satisfaction to a life scale [86
], as well as studies that ask a single question about how generally satisfied respondents are with their lives [32
] indicate similar results.
This may also be due to changing values [8
]. People who live in well-being societies may have started understanding that nothing material is intrinsically valuable. However, this outcome is limited because we did not identify any relationship between the respondents’ readiness to give up private mobility and their life satisfaction.
5.2. Behavioural Intentions Regarding Sustainable Mobility
In practical terms there is a belief that car ownership and usage is considered a “necessary evil” that is to be avoided whenever possible, often for hedonic reasons, such as personal health, personal finances or convenience, while altruistic reasons, such as reducing pollution or greenhouse gases, are less frequently mentioned. For instance, if one considered health as public issue and concern it could have been considered as altruistic, but according to our analysis such argumentation was not used. We found that the carrying capacity of the transport mode is an essential reason for mobility choices. According to our results, the only perceived solution for addressing larger carrying needs is a private car. Recent studies, for example [87
], suggest that electric bicycles, to some extent, could answer this issue and reduce use of the private car and also improve the convenience of carrying goods to some extent.
Concerns about health and physical strength dominated the responses to walking and cycling (Table 4
and Table 5
) which, according to research, are also the most common elements for increasing modality-specific satisfaction [63
]. Also, most of the other responses between these two categories were almost identical. The only exceptions were distance, which was around twice more significant enabling or disabling factor for walking. In comparison, responses to weather contained many more responses to cycling. This is in line with previous research indicating that a positive stance toward a specific modality predicted its high usage, although situational factors such as weather affected attitude [63
Responses to reducing car use and public transport use were much more varied, but they also generally followed the results of previous research. The high proportion of the convenience category in public transport to some extent highlights the observation from previous research that the ability to do other things increases satisfaction [17
] and that improving speed does not necessarily directly increase a preference for public transport. Furthermore, this also somewhat contradicts previous research [68
] that highlighted the strongest negative association with public transport. As convenience and travel satisfaction are not the same notions, further research could assess this relationship in further detail. We also find it interesting that commuting was only mentioned in relation to walking and cycling, while public transport is equally common modality for such purpose [66
5.3. The Potential for a More Sustainable Mobility
According to Kivimaa and Temmes [28
], significant progress has been made toward sustainable mobility in terms of the creation of niches for new technologies and experimentation coupled with regime level support from the Ministry of Transport and Communications and other public authorities. While young persons are less interested in owning a car, cars tend to dominate, particularly outside central areas [28
] and flying abroad has constantly increased [88
]. Our results revealed similar results and that many of the explanations about mobility solutions are still based on a culture of automobility [5
], although there are signs of a willingness to change behavior toward carbon-neutral mobility and to develop varying strategies for responding to this challenge. We also learned that there are concerns about social (in)justice and transport poverty, epitomized by the arguments for the lack of public transport or the low quality of public transport. However, frequent mentions of convenience in terms of public transport highlight the potential for socially substantive change.
Our research is in line with previous research on sustainable mobility transitions that concluded that in order to make cycling, walking and public transport more desirable, interventions in the broader system of mobility—from technology and infrastructure to practices and cultural preferences—appear to be a more efficient way of achieving behavioral changes than encouraging citizens to change their behavior [36
]. Previous research on sustainable mobility suggests that sustainable transport policies are most effective when they are a combination of the negative and the positive, i.e., if one wants to decrease the dominance of car culture, car use must be made more difficult, while low-carbon forms of mobility must be enabled and improved in terms of quality, convenience, safety and security [6
] as well as embedded culturally [39
]. Also, improvements to the urban environment and service locations provide benefits [90
], while some features of design and technology have received less attention. For instance, according to Heinen and Buehler [91
], there are some indications in the literature that improving the quality and safety of bicycle parking could increase bicycle use. In our results, we noted a frequent concern about car parking spaces, while for cycling such arguments were not used.
Furthermore, the literature on positive self-concepts [65
] and motility [42
] stresses that access to multiple modalities and pursuing skills and knowledge about them could establish a sense of freedom, competence and belonging, which, in turn, could generate confidence and the perception of attaining other life goals [92
]. This also links to the literature on habits [36
], highlighting the fact that knowledge of previous practices could be used in order to regain their use. Walking, cycling and the use of public transport are already familiar and routine activities in childhood and the avoidance of educational messages supporting automobility could therefore also play a role. Furthermore, pensioners have more time, partially indicated also in our analysis, and it is a potential enabler for them to return to walking and cycling, previously more common forms of transport. A recent study by Laakso [93
] also highlights the relevance of social support in workplace, as those respondents who increasing their cycling had to justify their behavior to their peers if they used a bicycle as their main form for mobility instead of a car or walked a few kilometers in order to access public transport. This applies to broader social aspects of mobility as well. That is, establishing more liveable communities in general by supporting civic initiatives could increase social belonging and positive attitudes towards localised and active mobility [31
], as advocated by sustainable mobility paradigm [37
Our results in the “access “and “time” categories, including references to specific modality as being the only option or being forced to use a specific modality because of time constraints, highlight the fact that improving current services and innovating new ones could help to accelerate change. In previous research this has been highlighted with the notion of “forced car ownership” [43
]. The deleted comments included “if I only could”, indicating that there are potential cultural, psychosocial or infrastructural barriers that limit niche development with more sustainable mobility practices. This highlights the limitations of promoting green consumerism [71
]. It is vital, instead, to understand the broader systemic aspects, as well as the need to address the disparities within societies, including those disparities between urban and rural areas [94
Finally, broader literature on low-carbon transitions stresses the relevance of co-benefits [95
]: Framing issues as “green” or “sustainable” has limits as it does not resonate with whole population, that also our research highlights. Rather, having a comprehensive view on the impact of sectoral policies [28
], and connecting it with more popular public concerns, such as personal health, employment, or security [95
] may accelerate change more effectively.
5.4. Limitations of the Study and Future Research
As the study is based on survey data, it probably does not fully capture the cyclicality between modality choice, attitude and travel satisfaction [63
]. Ettema et al. [17
] also note that memorizing previous behavior tends to overestimate both positive and negative emotions. Furthermore, as our data is nationwide, regional differences are not fully visible [96
]. Schwanen and Wang [69
], for example, found that geographical context and satisfaction correlate. Thus, it is likely that there are regional differences. The qualitative part of our analysis helped to alleviate this issue because by looking at arguments for area, distance and access, we were able to achieve a more nuanced picture between urban and suburban areas and the quality of services and infrastructure.
The survey questions between different modalities differ slightly and resulted in varying results. Thus, direct generalizations between modalities cannot be made, while voluntary responses to open questions depict nuances within the theme, but, unlike the quantitative data, do not represent the whole population.
As there is variation in terms of modalities and practices associated with them, the public transport category must be assessed carefully. The notion may refer to bus, train, metro, aviation or even public bike-sharing services that have potentially different association with travel behavior and satisfaction. As rail-based transport tends to achieve higher travel satisfaction than road-based transport [62
], it is likely that, for example, a high level of convenience associated with public transport in our data refers to the convenience of the light rail and metro system in Helsinki or the train in other parts of the country.
Also, it is worth noting that new modalities have only gained popularity in recent years in Finland. As our data were gathered in April 2017, this may be the reason why emerging trends, such as car or bicycle-sharing programs, electric bicycles, electric cars or mobility services were only rarely mentioned in the open responses. For example, city bike systems started in Helsinki in 2016, in Espoo and Turku in 2018 and in Kuopio in 2019.
Due to the limitations of the survey, we could not focus in detail on social, regional or situational aspects. Thus, future research could link an assessment of behavioral change with broader practices that sustain this type of behavior. Also, the development of comparative studies, for instance, between urban and rural areas, could improve our understanding of life satisfaction and mobility choice.
Furthermore, as we did not assess the qualitative data on the social exchange-based access modes, it would be useful to know in the future whether or not their usage is associated with meaningfulness. Moreover, is it true that people living in well-being societies are increasingly searching for a higher meaning in their lives rather than owning more goods and commodities such as cars.
This study assessed the correlation of sustainable modal shift with life satisfaction and further investigated how modal shift and intermodality could support a sustainable mobility transition. Based on our quantitative analysis, there is a high correlation with life satisfaction and walking, while our qualitative analysis depicts that reasoning tends to be dominated by car culture and hedonic concerns such as health and finances, while altruistic reasoning such as environmental protection are less frequent concern.
Our main conclusion is that a profound shift in mobility behavior is possible when citizens recognize that their life satisfaction can be combined with ecological and social benefits. By shifting mobility behavior, people achieve co-benefits on various levels by combining their hedonic and altruistic needs. Our results also highlight the fact that improving the level of access in terms of quality of service and public transport timetables could increase use, as well as reduce social exclusion. Finally, the transition is more likely to be achieved when it is systemic, that is sustainable technological embedding is supported by cultural, political and behavioural embedding of sustainable lifestyles.