From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

Promoting a Transport Modal Shift for Population Health

Completed Start date September 2002 End date September 2004


The late twentieth century saw a strong trend in the UK away from the use of public transport, walking and cycling in favour of private vehicle use, and population levels of physical activity have declined. The promotion of a modal shift in people's transport patterns towards walking and cycling could therefore help to meet cross-cutting policy objectives across the transport, environment and health fields by both reducing traffic congestion and increasing population levels of physical activity.


Measures to promote modal shift are often advocated, but evidence is rarely cited. We therefore undertook a systematic review to determine what interventions are effective in promoting modal shift, and their effects on health inequalities. The review, led by David Ogilvie, was published in 2004 along with two linked methodological papers describing the systematic review methods.



The best available evidence suggests that targeted behaviour change
programmes can be effective in changing the transport choices of
motivated subgroups, but the social distribution of their effects and
their effects on the health of local populations are unclear. Evidence
that other, apparently sensible types of intervention (such as agents of
change, publicity campaigns, cycle routes, traffic restraint, financial
incentives, and offering alternative services such as car sharing,
telecommuting or improved public transport) have been effective is
inconsistent, of low validity, based on single highly contextual
studies, or nonexistent. We need to build a stronger evidence base for
the health impacts of transport policies, preferably based on properly

conducted prospective studies.



Ogilvie D, Egan M, Hamilton V, Petticrew M. Systematic reviews of health effects of social interventions 2: best available evidence: how low should you go?. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2005;59:886-892

pubmed  open access  

Ogilvie D, Hamilton V, Egan M, Petticrew M. Systematic reviews of health effects of social interventions 1: finding the evidence: how far should you go?. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2005;59:804-808

pubmed  open access  


Ogilvie D, Egan M, Hamilton V, Petticrew M. Promoting walking and cycling as an alternative to using cars: systematic review. BMJ 2004;329:763-6

pubmed  open access  


Morrison D, Petticrew M, Thomson H. What are the most effective ways of improving population health through transport interventions? Evidence from systematic reviews. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2003;57:327-333



  • Modal shift The change from one preferred means of transport (e.g., travel by car) to another (e.g., cycling)
  • Systematic review A type of literature review which uses a particular approach involving (among other things) a comprehensive search for literature, and a formal assessment of the quality of each study
View all glossary entries