• Tara McGuicken

  • Theme:Transport, Behaviour and Society
  • Project:Getting the timing right: using ‘moments of change’ to promote sustainable travel behaviour
  • Supervisor: Lorraine Whitmarsh
  • The Gorgon's Head - Bath University Logo


Tara graduated from the University of Bath with a BSc in Psychology and recently completed an MSc in Environmental Psychology at the University of Groningen. During her undergraduate study she worked as a research assistant at the University of Manchester, cementing her interest in applying psychology to real-world problems. At the University of Groningen, Tara worked on a project with the Dutch Ministry of Finance advising on how behavioural insights can be used to promote the adoption of second-hand electric vehicles within the Netherlands, and she became passionate about designing and evaluating behaviour change interventions targeting travel behaviours.

Tara was attracted to AAPS CDT because she wants to gain a deeper understanding of the more technical and business-related aspects of current and future mobility challenges, in order to better understand how to address them.

Her research will explore the effectiveness of interventions targeting ‘moments of change’, whether personal (i.e., relocation, retirement) or societal (i.e., COVID-19), as opportunities to disrupt unsustainable travel habits. Working with local authority partners, she will design, implement, and evaluate interventions aiming to target such windows of opportunity and promote more sustainable transport-related choices.


  • I learnt how to swim before I learnt how to walk
  • I enjoy spending my free time drawing architectural sketches of buildings
  • I love animals and have done lots of animal-related volunteering, including working in a monkey sanctuary

Getting the timing right: using ‘moments of change’ to promote sustainable travel behaviour

Addressing climate change requires profound behavioural changes (CCC, 2019), including within transport. Indeed, reducing car use, switching to electric vehicles, and avoiding flying are the most impactful mitigation behaviour changes that individuals can make (Wynes & Nicholas, 2017). Yet, travel behaviours are amongst the most difficult to change (Whitmarsh, 2009). This is partly because they are strongly habitual – unconscious routines triggered by contextual cues (e.g., ‘it’s 8am, time to drive to work’) rather than the product of conscious deliberation of alternatives (e.g., ‘which mode of transport would be best today?’; Kurz et al., 2015). Many interventions (e.g., information campaigns) are ineffective because they are not strong enough to disrupt habits (Verplanken et al., 1997). But since habits are cued by stable contexts (i.e., the same time, place and/or social group; Wood et al., 2005), change in context disrupts habits (Verplanken et al., 2008). Consistent with this, ‘moments of change’ – where the circumstances of an individual’s life change considerably within a short timeframe – are one of the most important levers for lifestyle change (Capstick et al., 2014). Research shows that disruptions – whether concerning a person’s life-course (e.g. moving home) or structural (e.g. pandemic, flooding) – can provide opportunities to reshape behaviours in new directions (Marsden et al., 2020).

Interventions targeted to moments of change are thus more effective than at other times (Verplanken et al., 2019). Several studies show that mobility interventions are more effective when targeted to relocation (Thøgersen, 2012; Ralph & Brown, 2017). For example, one German study found that tailored public transport information and a one-day free transit pass was only effective when given to people who had recently moved house (increasing bus use from 18% to 47%), and did not change behaviour for those not relocating (Bamberg, 2006). Other such opportunities to intervene include temporal milestones (e.g., New Year, becoming an adult), having a child, retiring, infrastructure disruption (e.g., road closures), and COVID-19 (Verplanken et al., 2018; Burningham & Venn, 2020; Whitmarsh et al., 2020).

Working with a local authority partner (North Somerset Council) who are committed to ambitious climate change action, this PhD project will design and evaluate interventions to promote sustainable travel behaviours (e.g., walking/cycling) targeted to moments of change. We have identified three possible moments of change on which to focus: (a) residential relocation to a new housing development near Weston-Super-Mare, (b) opening of new schools in the region, and (b) infrastructure changes to promote active travel using COVID-19 emergency access funds. The PhD project will apply a mixed-methods approach, comprising an initial scoping study (e.g., evaluating the impact of the COVID-19 funding on commuters’ travel habits), followed by a field experiment to shape travel habits of new residents and/or school children to be low-carbon and sustainable.

© Copyright 2021 AAPS CDT, Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems at the University of Bath