Financial incentives to promote active travel: an evidence review and economic framework

Am J Prev Med. 2012 Dec;43(6):e45-57. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2012.09.001.


Context: Financial incentives, including taxes and subsidies, can be used to encourage behavior change. They are common in transport policy for tackling externalities associated with use of motor vehicles, and in public health for influencing alcohol consumption and smoking behaviors. Financial incentives also offer policymakers a compromise between "nudging," which may be insufficient for changing habitual behavior, and regulations that restrict individual choice.

Evidence acquisition: The literature review identified studies published between January 1997 and January 2012 of financial incentives relating to any mode of travel in which the impact on active travel, physical activity, or obesity levels was reported. It encompassed macroenvironmental schemes, such as gasoline taxes, and microenvironmental schemes, such as employer-subsidized bicycles. Five relevant reviews and 20 primary studies (of which nine were not included in the reviews) were identified.

Evidence synthesis: The results show that more-robust evidence is required if policymakers are to maximize the health impact of fiscal policy relating to transport schemes of this kind.

Conclusions: Drawing on a literature review and insights from the SLOTH (sleep, leisure, occupation, transportation, and home-based activities) time-budget model, this paper argues that financial incentives may have a larger role in promoting walking and cycling than is acknowledged generally.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bicycling / economics
  • Decision Making
  • Financing, Personal
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Policy
  • Health Promotion / economics*
  • Health Promotion / methods
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Policy Making
  • Taxes
  • Transportation / economics
  • Transportation / methods
  • Walking / economics