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Easier Than Expected to Live Without Car in Umeå

In 2018, ten families in Umeå were challenged to live without a car for three months. The conclusion was that it was easier than expected and that the process changed the families' view of themselves and their travel [1].

The norm is that families with children own a car. But with a combination of different means of transport, planning and adapting habits, the study shows it was possible to reach more sustainable transport behaviour. Umeå municipality has a long tradition of facilitating sustainable travel, both in terms of investments in cycling infrastructure and public transport frequency, but also different ways of inspiring and motivating sustainable behaviour changes.

“Here we have turned it around. Instead of proposing a mode of transport such as a bicycle or bus, we have challenged the participants to remove a way of travelling. The families have simply been tested to change behaviour by excluding another and this makes our test a little unique.”, says Anna Gemzell, project manager at Umeå municipality.

The study was intended for people who have been thinking of reducing their car usage, but who needed a final push to implement the change. As a support, the participants were offered a variety of means of transport that could replace the car; electric bike, bus pass and access to a carpool and a cargo-bike pool. After the test period, three families chose to continue living without a car, three families considered switching to more environmentally friendly cars and the remaining four families stuck to the car, but retained some new habits and behaviours, mainly related to everyday travel.


Personal comments

The study indicates that there is an element of curiosity and experimentation (and perhaps a threshold) to trying out new solutions and changing attitudes and routine behaviour. The usefulness- and satisfactory arguments of having a personal vehicle are still strong, but there are also strong habits involved with turning to the car for all types of transport needs. These habits are reinforced by the larger investment in a single mode of transport, effectively creating a barrier for even considering alternatives for certain trips.       


Written by Victor Malmsten Lundgren, RISE Viktoria.



1. 2019-05-23. Enklare än väntat att vara bilfri i Umeå.