Covid-19 and sustainable traffic flows

In recent years discussions about traffic flows came more and more in the focus of political discussions. The German government has acknowledged that a sustainable traffic infrastructure is necessary for fighting climate change (Bergk et al. 2017, p. 25).  

Contrary to these objectives the shares of transport sectors in traffic volume changed little between 2000 and 2017. Public transport accounts for a good 17.8% in 2017, whereas 82.1% accounts for the motorized individual transport. At the beginning of the millennium, public transport accounted for 16.6%, while motorized private transport accounted for 82.9% (Radke 2018, p. 220). This statistic does not signalize any significant change whatsoever as requested by Bergk et al. (2017). Even projections by Radke (2018) for traffic shares in 2030 do not show any significant differences. Which might surprise even in the model country Switzerland about three quarters of transport volume were accounted for by motorized private transport (Brand 2018; Bundesamt für Statistik 2019). Which is illustrating the need for alternative approaches to fulfill a transformation of transport.

Therefore, economists are highly interested in the mechanisms how to change human behavior concerning their travel behavior. Research concerning travel in behavioral economics has been little so far, even though the relevance for society is high.

According to Gravert and Olsson Collentine (2019) as well as Garcia-Sierra et al. (2015) several reasons may impact one’s decision to choose their means of transport. Based on the assumption of bounded rationality both papers try to explain irrational behavior concerning the decision of choosing means of transport.

Moreover, especially Gravert and Olsson Collentine (2019) are laying a focus on the impact of habits. The paper highlights first that the instrument of nudges might not be able to change travel behavior significantly, moreover they do find out that classical economic incentives might lead people to use public transport more often. Besides that, they claim that travel behavior is based on rational decision-making influenced by long-term habits, those might be changed by setting incentives.

In this context the research done by Metcalfe and Dolan (2012) comes into play, they tried to explain not the travel behavior itself, but which factors this behavior are influencing. Exactly this kind of research is necessary to develop instruments for sustainable traffic flow management. One argument stated in this paper is that people overweight small probabilities. Especially in the context of Covid-19 this might lead to less use of public transport in the future. 

The new situation caused by the Covid-19 is driving the need for more research to make traffic flows more sustainable in the future. As one can see there is space for more research, which will be necessary to transform our transportation system in a sustainable to fight climate change. After all the question remains, how to change human behavior?


Bergk, Fabian; Knörr, Wolfram; Lambrecht, Udo (2017): Klimaschutz im Verkehr: Neuer Handlungsbedarf nach dem Pariser Klimaschutzabkommen. Teilbericht des Projekts “Klimaschutzbeitrag des Verkehrs 2050”. With assistance of Christa Friedl. Edited by Umweltbundesamt. Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung Heidelberg GmbH. Heidelberg (45).

Brand, Susanne (2018): Vorbild Schweiz — Pendeln à la Suisse. With assistance of Candy Sauer. SWR. Available online at, checked on 4/6/2020.

Bundesamt für Statistik (2019): Leistungen im Personenverkehr. Available online at, checked on 4/6/2020.

Garcia-Sierra, Marta; van den Bergh, Jeroen C.J.M.; Miralles-Guasch, Carme (2015): Behavioural economics, travel behaviour and environmental-transport policy. In Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment 41, pp. 288–305. DOI: 10.1016/j.trd.2015.09.023.

Gravert, Christina Annette; Olsson Collentine, Linus (2019): When Nudges Aren’t Enough: Incentives and Habit Formation in Public Transport Usage. In SSRN Journal. DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.3500699.

Metcalfe, Robert; Dolan, Paul (2012): Behavioural economics and its implications for transport. In Journal of Transport Geography 24, pp. 503–511. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2012.01.019.

Radke, Sabine (2018): Verkehr in Zahlen 2018/2019. Edited by Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur. Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung; Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V.; Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt. Flensburg.

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