For centuries, transport has been a battle of ideologies: the utilitarians versus the romantics. One side strives to optimise journeys against quantifiable measures while the other nostalgically recounts the joys of travel as a social practice.
The book I co-wrote with Ogilvy vice-president and consumer behaviour expert Rory Sutherland, Transport for Humans, takes a more balanced position. We argue that our present focus on efficiency has run its course and that the romantic view of travel needs to be updated in light of the science showing how to make transport simpler, more inclusive and sustainable.
It is common to hear that transport providers must simply prioritise ‘getting people from A to B’, but this is a low-bar ambition that misses the real purpose of much travel. In our book, we get to grips with the ‘real why’ underpinning people travel behaviours. This involves walking in other people’s shoes.
The trouble – as physicist and science fiction writer Vanada Singh puts it – is that people suffer from ‘paradigm blindness’. When it suits someone to keep a particular way of thinking alive, they are inclined to be blind to the credibility of alternative ways of seeing. Paradigm blindness is a deficit of imagination. It is a culture’s inability to imagine that other people do not subscribe to its view. While we all live in a paradigm of one sort or another, what’s different about people in positions of power (like transport decision-makers) is that their way of imagining the future tends to become the reality that most people end up living in.