RSA report “Inside the Mind of a Cabbie” explores how to influence more fuel-efficient driving behavior
Shell in the UK, in partnership with think tank RSA (Royal Society of the Arts), has been conducting a study/challenge in July involving cab drivers from 10 regions across the UK competing to see who could drive in the most fuel-efficient manner to substantially lower their fuel costs.
The behavior change project—Shell Smarter Cab Drivers—aims to apply RSA’s steer theory to driving habits, to test whether small interventions can really change people’s behavior when it comes to fuel usage and to ensure drivers make the most out of smarter driving tips. The RSA has now just released an interim report—Inside the Mind of a Cabbie—which explores the day-to-day issues the drivers face and provides a series of initial recommendations and suggests as to how they can be influenced to drive more fuel-efficiently.
Climate change is partly a technical problem, in that it has well defined quantitative dimensions that can be targeted by technological and policy interventions. Yet the human dimension underlying the technical problem means that climate change is more profoundly an adaptive challenge, requiring changes in attitude, values and behavior on an unprecedented scale.
This distinction between technical solutions and adaptive challenges is important for this project and climate change more generally. Indeed, according to Harvard Professor Dan Heifetz, the most common failure of leadership involves failing to grasp it. Technical problems can be simplified, instrumentalized, and addressed with familiar tools, but adaptive challenges like climate change require us to face up to complexity, and require fresh human reflection, responsibility and insight. This interim report speaks to the kind of under-labour required to think about energy use and misuse as an adaptive human challenge, by gaining a deeper understanding of a particular sub-set of motivated energy users.—“Inside the Mind of a Cabbie”
RSA said that its goal is to deepen its understanding of how to run helpful information about fuel into enduring dispositions for drivers. Shell’s fuel savings tips range from choice of oil, driving speed, car weight, personal comfort and journey planning. As an exploratory pilot study, RSA chose to focus the enquiry on the fuel efficiency of taxi drivers—“not merely because of their professional interest in reducing costs, but because their professional identity involves their driving expertise and their singular capacity to influence passengers”.
The RSA commissioned in-depth qualitative interviews with ten taxi drivers in their normal working environments, including accompanied journeys and close observation of driving behavior. Shortly afterwards, it hosted a focus group with the drivers in London, seeking to encourage discussions between the cabbies on their typical work challenges and existing efforts to save fuel.
RSA focused on:
Cabbies’ personal views and outlooks: what do they think and care about?
Taxi driving as a profession: what separates the driver of hackney carriages from other driving professions? Are taxi drivers operating a private business, performing a public service, or doing an uneasy mixture of the two?
Taxi drivers as a community: what do cabbies think of each other? Do drivers compete with each other for trade, or cooperate in line with accepted norms?
Typical driving behaviors: do they have any particular existing habits they could change if they wanted to?
Attitudes to behavior change in the context of climate change: could cabbies see themselves as part of the climate change problem or solution?
The answers to these questions influenced the design of RSA’s behavior change interventions at a workshop. The interim report is based on a thematic analysis of the available qualitative data, and will inform a more comprehensive final report on fuel-efficient driving behavior, including telemetry data from the national competition, due to be published by the RSA in November.
Among the findings from the interim report:
The nature of the cabs that drivers have to work with is a major concern and they would welcome more fuel efficient vehicles.
Cab drivers feel disconnected from the issue of climate change but are concerned about the implications for their children.
The trade off between fuel efficiency measures and the need to make a profit is an issue. There is a constant challenge to balance efficiency with the need to maximize the number of jobs each day. Many drivers doubt whether there is a financial benefit to driving in a more fuel efficient way.
Each passenger is a “paying guest” that demands a service from the cabbie. Often cabbies feel they must compromise fuel efficiency to get their passenger to the final destination as quickly as possible.
It is important to recognize potential challenges to cabbies developing more fuel-efficient behavior, particularly the increasing scarcity of passengers, increasing competition from private hire vehicles, the reliable fares being at ranks encouraging drivers to rush back to ranks. A further potential challenge may be drivers’ general resistance to instruction.
Based on interactions with the cabbies in the challenge to date, RSA formulated a set of interim conclusions as to how to encourage fuel efficient driving:
Due to the cabbies’s recognition of the gap between knowing they should do something (e.g. drive smoothly) and actually doing it, RSA’s focus was not on information dissemination but on understanding that brains can be viewed as two systems, like a pilot and an auto-pilot, and that the challenge with information is that it often only reaches the pilot, but has no impact on the auto-pilot. Given that most driving behavior is automatic, the key is find ways to shift habitual behaviors, which is why the workshop focused strongly on the relationship between habits and habitats.
behavior change suggestions should involve raising awareness of social contagion rather than explicit instruction. RSA therefore concentrated a whole half-hour session on social norms and the power of social networks. This device was partly to motivate drivers to overcome their fatalistic tendencies by showing that what they did had the potential to influence not only their passengers but also the people their passengers influenced i.e. that they may have great power to affect change.
RSA also felt it was very important to frame financial savings in tangible terms i.e. as a potential holiday, as the payment of discrete costs, and so always tried to stage the value of fuel efficiency in these more tangible terms.
There is a big challenge but also an interesting opportunity to consider imaginative ways to tap into the civic pride and ambassadorial role that drivers already latently feel. This was a further reason to emphasize the potential for drivers to be exemplars and spread fuel efficiency through their good example.
Although there is already a strong public service ethos among the drivers, RSA suggests a deeper framing of what that might mean in practice. This might involve a change in transport policy, or public subsidies to cabbies contingent on them promoting certain government policies, for instance on public health or indeed fuel efficiency.
Although telemetry data is the default measure in the competition, RSA decided to measure some drivers’ fuel efficient behavior differently, asking them to fill out a short daily manual log, and requiring them to keep an audio diary of major observations and insights on their attempts to save fuel. RSA hypothesizes that the small investment of time to record fuel used throughout the day might serve as a helpful commitment device, by making the feedback more tangible and meaningful to the driver. The process may heighten the reflexive process that is integral to the Steer approach to behavior change, by connecting the requisite self-awareness involved in changing habitual driving behaviors with the self-awareness involved in experiencing the rewards of those changes.
While there was little perceived value in tackling attitudes to climate change directly, RSA did want to open the cabbies up to the idea that their existing views on the matter may not be fully formed or grounded in sound evidence. The point was to suggest that whatever changes they made had value beyond the competition.