Travel mode use, travel mode shift and subjective well-being: Overview of theories, empirical findings and policy implications

D.F. Ettema*, M. Friman, Tommy Gärling, Lars Olsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


This chapter discusses how travel by different travel modes is related to primarily subjective well-being but also to health or physical well-being. Studies carried out in different geographic contexts consistently show that satisfaction with active travel modes is higher than travel by car and public transport, and that satisfaction with travel is lowest for different forms of public transport. These differences are shown to be explained by a variety of factors, which stem from fundamental differences between the travel modes in terms of the intensity of physical activity, mental involvement in the act of travel itself, exposure to and interaction with the vehicle and the wider travel surroundings, and the degree of control over travel circumstances. Taken together, the overview suggests that active modes are an attractive alternative to car travel. Public transport can be a good alternative to car travel, if requirements of seat availability, accessibility, safety, and cleanliness are met. Regarding the shift from one travel mode to another, some evidence indicates that most car commuters, when switching to public transport, experience lower satisfaction with travel by car. Yet, those who experience public transport more positive than car are likely to keep using it. Other evidence suggests, however, that car commuters’ experience of public transport is better than they anticipate, but that they tend to “forget” this after some time. Switchers from car to active travel on average report higher levels of subjective well-being after the switch. Policies aimed at promoting the use of more sustainable modes should recognize that heterogeneity exists between travelers, and aim at targeting those with positive attitudes toward changing to active modes and public transport. Future research should address the dynamics in experienced travel satisfaction and mode choice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMobility, Sociability and Well-being of Urban Living
EditorsD. Wang, S. He
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783662481844
ISBN (Print)9783662481837
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Well-being
  • travel satisfaction
  • travel mode choice
  • behavior change
  • mode switsching


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