Driving-Addiction Treatment

How Australia pried people from their cars.

Australia is as car-happy as the US, yet in the city of Perth, drivers have stepped out of their autos in record numbers. A 12-year-old public program called TravelSmart trims an estimated 30 million car trips each year and has increased annual transit boardings by more than 4 million. That translates into a yearly savings of 88 thousand tons of C02 and 5 million gallons of gas.

How did TravelSmart do it? The program targets uncommitted drivers—those who acknowledge in surveys that they’re open to walking or transit—with tenacious, individualized campaigns. Workers assess a person’s transit needs and provide bicycle maps, bike-shop coupons, walking tours, discounted transit passes, and bus schedules. Staff then follow up by phone, letter, or in person, sometimes up to a dozen times, to make sure the information has been understood and utilized. Through sheer persistence, TravelSmart has slashed total car miles traveled in Perth by 13 percent. And word is spreading: At least six US cities and six more in Europe are trying similar programs. “People want to be part of the solution,” says Werner Brög, TravelSmart’s founder. “They just don’t know how.”