Soft measures

'Soft measures' refer to methods of reducing car use through the use of promotion, marketing, personalised travel planning, training, and so on. From the Department for Transport

‘Soft’ transport policy measures are those aimed at helping people to choose to reduce their car use while enhancing the attractiveness of alternatives. Such measures include:
  • workplace and school travel plans
  • personalised travel planning, travel awareness campaigns,
  • and public transport information and marketing
  • car clubs and car sharing schemes
  • teleworking, teleconferencing and home shopping.

In the UK these measures are officially termed 'Smarter Choices'.

For cycling, soft measures might include training, marketing and promotion, combined with travel planning. Contrast 'soft' with 'hard' measures, which refer to changes to the physical environment to make cycling safer, more convenient and more attractive.

A reliance on soft measures does not appear to have had an impact on increasing cycling levels in Britain.

Overall, UK Government statistics on levels of cycling in the UK in 2012/13 show that more local authority regions are seeing a decline than those seeing an increase, which suggests that ‘soft’ approaches have not been successful in improving the nation’s level of cycling to date.

Steve Melia has also analysed the failure of a number of 'Smart Travel' towns to shift travel patterns away from the private car, coming to the conclusion

There is a broader lesson here for smarter choices and modal shift.  Social marketing can help to foster, or accelerate transport cultures of one kind or another.  But marketing is about more than information or persuasion: it is also about the nature of the product itself.  Marketing a useless product is a waste of time and money.  Fostering cultural change where conditions are improving is the only way smarter choices will work in the longer-term.  If commissioners of research are interested in achieving value for money, rather than simply estimating it, then understanding how to foster those changes would be more useful than obsessing about cost-benefit ratios for measures which may be impossible to disentangle.