Transtheoretical Model of Change and Sustainable Transportation

Our program manager, Khushpal Brar, spoke on behaviour change and commuter travel choices at the Sustainability: Transdisciplinary Theory, Practice and Action conference at University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus earlier this fall. Here is an overview of what she spoke about at the conference.

All of the work we do involves behaviour change, with our programs and services focusing on encouraging people to try sustainable modes of travel instead of driving alone. pointA envisions sustainable transportation options that benefit the environment, the economy and the well-being of our communities. To achieve this, we incorporate behaviour change science to better understand the rationale behind commuter habits and reduce reliance on single occupant vehicles.

Willingness to Change

As is the case with most organizations advocating for sustainability, the biggest challenge is often people’s lack of willingness to change and our lack of understanding on what incentives they need in order to change.

Willingness to change is complex and influenced by a variety of factors. Commuters can choose to drive instead of taking more cost-effective, healthy and environmentally friendly modes of transportation just out of habit.

Transtheoretical Model of Change (TTM)

To understand how to influence an individual’s willingness to change, we can look towards something called the Transtheoretical Model of Change. The model shows how factors influencing willingness to change relate to one another and how one’s willingness to change can evolve over time.

The TTM has been applied to a number of fields, namely health and transportation, as a model of fostering behaviour change globally.

The TTM operates on the assumption that people do not change behaviors quickly and decisively. Rather, change in behavior, especially habitual behavior, occurs continuously through a cyclical process. It posits that individuals move through five stages of change:

  • Precontemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance

Each stage requires different intervention strategies to be effective at moving an individual from one stage to the next. Eventually, the goal is to get the individual to the maintenance stage, where they have already changed their behaviour and continue to receive support to maintain that change. For the best behaviour change success rate, we want to focus on people in the contemplation, preparation and maintenance stages because these are the groups most receptive to incentives and encouragement to change their behaviour.

During the initial contemplation and preparation stages, people are considering making a change and may already be taking small steps towards changing their habits. Because they are already considering or taking steps to change their behaviour, people at these stages will be more receptive to nudges such as a carpooling campaign or incentives to try taking transit.  After making the leap to changing their behavior, the maintenance stage is crucial in ensuring people do not fall back to old habits and additional support can be very useful at this stage.

As with any model, there are limitations. However, the TTM is a useful way to identify people’s stages when we are talking about transportation choices because it applies well to habits. Habits are difficult to change so a model that acknowledges vacillation between stages is helpful.

The TTM shows us that behavior change is dynamic; it’s a process that people are constantly going through. One way that we can help transition commuters from one stage to the next is by offering sustained programming such as our shuttle program.

By running a consistent shuttle program with a set daily schedule, we can attract people as they start considering alternative modes of travel. The regular presence of the shuttle also helps to transform the culture of the business parks it services into places that are more open to sustainable travel, which encourages commuters to try it out. So whether an individual is at the beginning of changing their behaviour and taking the shuttle once or twice a week, or they have fully switched from driving alone to taking the shuttle every day, the service is available for everyone no matter which behaviour change stage they are in, from precontemplation to the maintenance stage.  

Change Opportunities

While moving from precontemplation to contemplation can be gradual, change can also happen more rapidly due to disruptions in the status quo. One example of a catalyst for rapid change is construction that can block a commuter’s normal path to work. These are ripe opportunities for us to intervene because commuters are presented with a challenge to their normal commuting habits and are looking for a new option.

Our New Year, New Commute campaign promoted a positive change in how commuters could get to work and encouraged workers in the area to take advantage of the new subway stops in Vaughan.

Another example of a change opportunity is when an organization moves offices. Office relocations can be challenging for employees who must find a new commute, especially if the new location has fewer parking spots, such as our work with Segal LLP when they relocated to York Mills Centre.

Theory in Practice

By focusing on meeting commuters wherever they are in their decision-making journey and creating more targeted, personalized services, we can expand the choices individuals have in how they get to work or school. Customizing our interventions across a diverse range of workplaces has proven to be the most efficient and effective method for shifting travel behavior and encouraging commuters to make long lasting changes. 


Read more examples of our work in behaviour change here.

Big changes like an office relocation can be an opportunity for employees to shift to more sustainable commutes. If your organization is relocating, we offer support to help your employees with their new commute. Read more about our office relocation assistance services here.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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