Prestige And Pleasure

Mobility As A Prestige Good  And As A Pleasurable Activity – Implications for Transport Planning


TDM Encyclopedia

Victoria Transport Policy Institute


Updated 13 December 2010

This chapter discusses two factors that tend to increase motor vehicle travel demand: the prestige and pleasure that many people associated with vehicle ownership, vehicle travel, sprawl and distant holidays. It discusses their implications for transportation and TDM planning.



Wit and Humor

“Contentment is natural wealth; luxury, artificial poverty.”
- Socrates (B.C. 469-399)



Prestige Value

Prestige (also called status and position) refers to a person’s social rank. Many goods and services have prestige value, that is, they increase the status of consumers who own or use them. These are called prestige (or status, or positional) goods. Jewelry and fashionable clothing, luxurious homes and cars, and extravagant entertainment are examples of these prestige goods. A conceptual test of prestige value is to ask, “Would I choose this particular good if nobody else knew that I owned or used it, or if it became unfashionable?”


From an individual’s perspective, prestige is of great importance, establishing personal dignity, pride and self-esteem, and social status. For example, having a prestigious vehicle often increases a person’s social popularity, and professionals may earn more if they drive a prestigious car because it indicates success. Conversely, if walking, cycling or public transit travel are not respected people will resist using these modes even if they are efficient and functional.


With increased material wealth and expanded market options, the image of a good or service has become as important as its functional value. Certain objects and brands represent security, vitality, responsibility and health. For example, urban residents who almost never drive offroad purchase an SUV as a way to express their identity and personal fantasies of being a rugged, adventurous individual, or because they are convinced by advertising that it is safer than other vehicles. Similarly, some people choose a suburban location because it is considered prestigious, not because they actually enjoy working in their garden.


Few goods only provide prestige value. Prestige is usually an additional feature of functional goods and services. For example, vehicle purchasers often pay extra for features such as high potential speeds and offroad abilities that they never intend to use, for prestige value. Similarly, people may choose a more exotic holiday destination because it sounds impressive, although they remain within their resort and never actually experience the unique location. The extra vehicle costs and travel expenses can be considered the prestige value.


Prestige value is relative. For example, in some communities, where vehicle ownership is low, owning any type of automobile provides a high level of prestige, but in communities where automobile ownership is common, a particular type of vehicle, usually an expensive type, is needed for prestige. As society becomes wealthier, the standards and costs of prestige goods continually increase.


Prestige value provides little or no net benefit, because increased status to one person reduces status to others. Prestige value is an economic transfer, not a net economic gain (sometimes called a zero sum game or social trap, because gains to one person are offset by losses to somebody else). For example, if a young man purchases a particularly prestigious car, he gains popularity compared with his peers, but this raises the standard for the type of vehicle that other young men must own for equal status and popularity.


It is important to differentiate between functional and prestige values in economic analysis, because increased functional value benefits society but increased prestige value does not. It represents a form of inflation, which raises everybody’s costs without increasing overall welfare.


Optimal Wealth – If You’re So Rich, Why Aren’t You Happy?

When people are impoverished, increased material wealth can provide significant benefits and increased happiness. But once people’s basic material needs for food, housing and health care are met, additional wealth provides much less benefit.


Consider the growth in productivity and material wealth that has occurred during the last century. You would think that this progress would make people substantially better off, but happiness seems elusive. Many people complain about the poor quality of their lives: excessive job and financial stress, long work hours, a lack of leisure time…you’d think that we are worse off than our grandparents. What has gone wrong? Here are some explanations:


·         Some of the increased production is partly offset by increased overhead costs. Higher productivity requires more education and equipment.


·         A portion of increased wealth is offset by increased external costs, such as congestion and illnesses.


·         Increased wealth raises the standard of consumption required for prestige. Consumers are no longer content to have simple homes, clothes and holidays: they feel the need to own impressive houses, fashionable clothes, exotic vacations, and expensive automobiles. This competition for material status makes it difficult to be content.


As a result of these factors, a large increase in material wealth may provide only a modest increase in health and happiness. Once basic material needs have been met, increased wealth usually provides diminishing benefits.



Research by Currie and Delbose (2010) investigated how factors related to transport disadvantage (such as physical and economic constraints on people’s mobility) and social exclusion (such as unemployment and poverty) affect people’s wellbeing, measured using responses to life satisfaction surveys. They found that being transport disadvantaged is positively associated with social exclusion, and social exclusion tends to reduce well-being. However, both highly-mobile and transport disadvantaged people experience time poverty (stress due to excessive commitments) which tends to reduce well-being. This suggests that increased vehicle travel may provide little increase in wellbeing if either the extra speed is used to travel longer distances rather than to reduce total travel time, or if motorists must work longer hours to afford a car, leading to time poverty.


The Costs of Chauffeuring

Chauffeuring refers to additional vehicle travel required to carry a passenger, in contrast to a rideshare trip in which a passenger is carried in an otherwise empty seat in a vehicle that would be making a trip anyway, and so does not increase vehicle travel. In automobile-dependent conditions non-drivers often require significant amounts of chauffeuring: children driven to and from school, recreational and social activities; people with disabilities driven to medical appointments and shopping; and out-of-town visitors being chauffeured to and from airports or train stations, and to various activities.


Chauffeured travel is inefficient. It requires drivers’ time, increases vehicle travel (chauffeured trips often require an empty backhaul, so transporting a passenger 5 miles generates 10 miles of vehicle travel), and deprives passengers of independence.


People sometimes value chauffeuring as an opportunity to socialize, such as a time when parents can talk with their children, but it can also generate stress and conflict, such as when a driver must interrupt an important activity to fulfill chauffeuring obligations, or when a passenger or driver misses a scheduled connection. Parents often complain about the time poverty and stress of chauffeuring, and seniors with declining ability are often reluctant to giving up driving because they do not want to lose their independence or burden others for rides. Studies indicate that both time poverty and reduced independence tend to reduce people senses of wellbeing and happiness (Curie and Delbose 2010).


A diverse transport system with efficient non-automobile transport options (walking, cycling, public transit, taxi services, and telecommunications), can reduce the need for chauffeuring. More accessible land use, which minimizes travel distances, increases the portion of trips that can be made by walking, cycling and taxi. Transit-oriented development, with appropriate housing located in transit-rich areas can significantly reduce the need for chauffeuring.



Travel As A Pleasure Activity

Mobility is usually considered a derived demand, that is, people travel to achieve other goals such as getting to work, shopping, visiting somebody, or distributing goods. Even recreational trips usually have a destination, such as a park or resort. Transportation planning is usually based on the assumption that time spent in travel is a cost and travel time savings are a benefit (Transportation Costs).


However, there are many indications that people consider a certain amount of mobility to be enjoyable, and will make additional trips if necessary to experience it (Mokhtarian and Salomon, 2001; Mokhtarian, 2005; Diana, 2005). On average, people seems to travel about 1 hour a day, and consider a 10-20 minute commute trip acceptable or even desirable, as a time to think and relax, and a way to separate home and work life. As a result, per-minute travel time costs may be small for short trips, and increase for longer trips (those greater than 20 minutes).


Travel facilitates discovery, that is, it helps people explore the world and themselves. This can occur at many levels, people walking or bicycling on local streets to explore their neighborhood, traveling across town to try a new restaurant or store, or traveling account the world to experience a different culture and to explore their response to that experience. People often walk, jog, bicycle, motorcycle, drive, and take trips by train, boat or airplane for the sheer enjoyment of the activity, with no destination, or a destination of minimal importance that is mainly an excuse for the trip. Such trips probably represents a minor, but not insignificant portion of total travel. An even larger share of transport decisions are probably influenced by positive feelings people have about mobility. For example, people may choose to drive alone rather than use a cheaper mode, accept a longer commute, or be willing to take a non-essential business trip because they enjoy the travel.


The pleasure and displeasure provided by transportation varies from one person and situation to another. For example, some people enjoy driving, others do not, and a particular person may enjoy driving short trips or under rural travel conditions, but dislike automobile commuting under congested conditions (Wener, Evans and Boatley 2004). To the degree that transportation systems offer viable options (such as both automobile and quality transit services) people can select the mode that provides the greatest benefits and pleasure for a particular trip.


Consumer travel preferences appear to be shifting away from automobile travel. According to a 2006 survey of 1,048 drivers, 69% say they enjoy driving their automobiles, down from 79% in 1991 (MSN 2006). Although most motorists are unlikely to give up driving altogether, many were prefer to drive somewhat less then they do now and rely more on alternatives, provided that they are convenient, safe, affordable and prestigious.



Influence on Transportation Activities

Transportation activities are influenced in various ways by prestige and pleasure values.


Motor Vehicle Ownership

Motor vehicles, including automobiles, motorcycles, airplanes and motorboats, are major prestige goods, and many people make a hobby out of owning, fixing and maintaining motor vehicles. This motivates consumers to purchase more vehicles, more expensive vehicles, and vehicles with more features, than they otherwise would.


Motorized Travel

Motor vehicle travel is considered prestigious and enjoyable, and use of other modes such as walking, cycling, ridesharing and transit, are often stigmatized. As a result, people will sometimes drive just for the pleasure, and forego use of alternative modes that are otherwise equal or superior in terms of their consumer attributes.



Demand for low-density, urban fringe home location result, in part, from the prestige that people feel from newer homes and larger gardens, and the stigma associated with older, urban neighborhoods (Land Use Evaluation).


Long-distant Recreation Travel

Demand for long-distance holiday trips results, in part, from the prestige associated with exotic destinations. As international travel becomes more common, more travel is needed for a trip to be considered “special,” and people may choose long-distance holiday trips to foreign countries, even though they stay in a secluded resort and have no interaction with local people or culture.


Preference for Air and Rail

Air travel tends to be considered more prestigious than rail, and rail travel tends to be considered more prestigious than bus transport. This results in policies and investments that favor air and rail transport, and underinvestment and underuse of bus transportation.



Because people use travel to compete for prestige, travel demand is virtually unlimited. If regional travel becomes faster and cheaper, people will extend their commute ever farther in order to have a home at the urban fringe. If international travel were sufficiently cheap, parents might have birthday parties in far off lands, even for children too young to appreciate the experience, simply to make it a “special” event. If interplanetary travel were sufficiently cheap, an earth-bound holiday might be considered dull. Each increase in mobility diminishes the prestige value of shorter trips and closer destinations.



Implications for Planning

Prestige and pleasure values have significant implications for transportation and land use planning. They mean that travel demand is virtually unlimited, and that motor vehicle travel and associated costs may increase without making people better off overall. Trying to satisfy such demand tends to be a bad investment: it induces additional travel, increases external costs, and provide little or no net benefits to consumers.


Of course, this increased motor vehicle ownership and travel may provide indirect benefits by supporting particular industries and innovations. However, money spent on automobiles and fuel provides relatively little business activity and employment in most areas (Economic Development). There is no clear justification for favoring prestige goods over other types of consumer expenditures.


Although it is difficult to measure the total economic effects of positional goods and the externalities they produce, the direction of these impacts is clear: They erode the net welfare gain of increased vehicle use and may result in net losses, particularly in wealthier communities where consumers’ basic transportation and housing needs are fulfilled.


That transportation demand is virtually unlimited, and increased mobility may provide little net benefits to consumers increases the importance of applying Market Principles that avoid underpricing driving or biasing planning decisions in favor of motorized travel and sprawl.


This also emphasizes the importance of differentiating between basic, functional needs (for example, for food, housing, health care and economic opportunities), and luxury consumption. Basic Accessibility reflects the importance to society of providing transportation that allows people to meet their basic functional needs. This suggests that transportation and land use planning should manage travel resources such as roads and parking facilities to give priority to Basic Access trips and destinations.


Although automobiles are a prestige good (they can even be considered a fetish item to some people), this does not mean that transportation demand management is futile. Even people who love their cars can be convinced to use alternatives, given suitable opportunities and incentives. For example, many automobile enthusiasts  also enjoy walking and cycling, and it common in some communities for upper-income people who own valuable cars to commute by transit (particularly rail transit) if it has suitable speed and comfort. Some people who own a unique vehicle and love to drive may prefer to use alternatives for mundane commuting in order to better enjoy driving during off-peak periods. That automobile ownership and use results, in part, from “irrational” consumer preferences means that there is a significant amount of discretionary vehicle travel that may be reduced with suitable incentives and marketing efforts, just as recycling promotion and smoking reduction programs have proven effective, at least for some groups.


An understanding of prestige value and the pleasure people derive from travel can be used to support transportation and land use objectives. For example, TDM Marketing can identify consumer transportation and neighborhood preferences, and this information can be used to help improve the prestige of alternative modes or more accessible locations. People sometimes assume that reducing automobile travel requires significant personal sacrifice, but this is not necessarily true to the degree that automobile travel results from prestige. Consumer might reduce their and be better off overall, if they could take more pride in walking, cycling, ridesharing, transit, and more accessible neighborhoods. In fact, current consumer trends are toward such values, at least in some communities, which suggests that there is considerable potential for social marketing to support TDM.



Shifting Gears: The Joy of (Not Always) Driving

by Jeremy Sinek (, an online Canadian automobile magazine.


Since you’re reading this magazine, I’m going to make a giant leap of logic and assume that you love cars and you enjoy driving.


Not for you the notion of a motor vehicle as merely an appliance or “a tool, personal transportation, for the use of.” Cars, to you, are intrinsically interesting. Driving is an act of emotion, not mere motion.


That being the case, I have a proposal that may shock you.


Drive less.


Am I nuts? The editor of a car magazine telling people to cut back on the driving? No, I’m serious: if you’re serious about how much you like to drive, do it less.


What this planet needs more than anything is fewer cars on the road. We need fewer cars crashing into each other, cleaner air in our cities, less carbon dioxide heating up the planet. We need to reduce our dependence on the foreign sources of oil over which future wars may be fought.


At the same time, what we of the auto-enthusiast persuasion need is more quality in our driving, not quantity.


Put these two needs together and what we have is an opportunity for enlightened self-interest. If we’re going to benefit from reduced traffic, we who like to drive will have to do our part. But there are personal spin-off benefits from leaving the car at home, say, one or two days a week. And on the days we do drive, we’ll enjoy it that much more.


On many of North America’s busiest highways, traffic already grinds along so slowly that it would be literally faster to ride a bike to work. How much longer before walking becomes the faster alternative?


It’s not an issue only of journey times. The greater the traffic congestion, the nastier the driving experience becomes. The fact that you have zero opportunity to enjoy your car’s scalpel-sharp steering and spine crushing acceleration is the least of it. Stop and go driving is tedious, frustrating and mentally draining. Hell on your car, too.


Worse, you’re trapped in the company of people behaving badly. The heavier the congestion, the worse the behaviour. I don’t know about you, but I normally go a long way to avoid being near aggressive, selfish, boorish people who get what they want by pushing and shoving.


Don’t think you’re exempt if you’re the one who’s behaving badly. What do you think is happening to your stress levels, to your heart rate, every time you cut off another driver so that maybe you can get home seven tenths of a second earlier than if you had stayed in the other lane? Of course, if that’ s the way you drive the chances are you’re also blowing a wad every year in traffic tickets and inflated insurance premiums.


Let’s face it, this whole concept of personal mobility that the automobile represents is a wondrous privilege and luxury that we abuse and misuse shamefully. And I don’t mean misuse in the sense of driving badly, though Lord knows there’s enough of that going around. I mean it in the sense of driving inappropriately; driving when you really should not be driving.


Last Saturday night - a warm, dry night in early May - a neighbour invited us to their house party. My wife and I walked the entire 150 metres to get there. Two other guests, each of whom lives less than 300 metres from the venue, drove to the party.


C’mon folks, this is not OK!


Another example. Go to any mall, and even in the nicest of weather you will see drivers circling around looking for parking as close as possible to the mall entrance. Sometimes people even get into fights over empty parking spots. Meanwhile, maybe 100 metres further away, there’s acres of empty parking. People spend five minutes burning gas and spewing emissions so they can save themselves a one-minute walk.


Then there are all those rugged, outdoorsy SUV drivers. Have you noticed how it always seems to be SUVs parked illegally in the fire lane right outside the mall entrance because their “active-lifestyle” (pah!) drivers are too lazy to walk 50 or 100 metres from a legitimate parking spot?


Or how about this for the height of absurdity? Suppose we need a to pick up carton of milk or rent a movie. We put on our $200 “athletic” shoes, brush past the bicycle in the garage to get into the car, and drive to the plaza 0.9 kilometres away. If we think about it at all, maybe we justify it to ourselves in terms of time saved.


But then, maybe later that same day, we get into the car again and drive a few kilometres to the fitness club, for which we pay hundreds of dollars a year in membership. There, we spend the next hour or two doing totally artificial exercise on a bicycle or a treadmill going absolutely nowhere. And on the way home afterwards we stop to fill up our tank and bitch about the price of gasoline.


Now you tell me who’s nuts.


(Here’s a thought: imagine how much energy could be saved and pollution avoided if every exercise machine in every gym was hooked up to a generator that fed electricity back into the hydro grid. Remember, you read it here first). [Bodzin replies: I’ve looked into this, and it wouldn’t even produce enough electricity to power the lights, cash registers, computers, and sound system in the gym. Human locomotion is so low-energy, it’s on a totally different scale from the vehicle and electric-grid world we get used to.]


Quite aside from oil crunches and global warming, there’s another crisis facing our western lifestyles: growing levels of obesity and declining physical fitness. Surveys show that not only are we getting fatter, so are our kids.


Could there be a connection between the obesity epidemic, dirty air, global warming ... and the number of mothers I see every morning chauffeuring their 1.7 children to neighbourhood schools in nine-seater Chevrolet Suburbans? D’ya think?



TDM Opportunities

Transportation Demand Management can help offset the negative impacts of prestige and pleasure value of automobile travel.


Transportation and Market Reforms

Market Reforms and Least Cost Planning can help correct existing market distortions that encourage economically excessive automobile use.


Motor Vehicle Ownership

Carsharing can help reduce the need for automobile ownership. It may be marketed as a way for consumers to drive more prestigious vehicles than they could otherwise afford, and enjoy their driving more, because they have wider choices and fewer responsibilities.


Motorized Travel

TDM Marketing, Nonmotorized Encouragement, Transit Improvements, Ridesharing, and other types of TDM programs can help make alternative modes more respected, attractive and enjoyable to consumers. Enjoyment of mobility is not limited to automobile travel, the same impulse that motivates people to cruise in their car can be shifted to walking or cycling, provided that they have facilities and respect that makes these activities pleasurable.



Smart Growth and New Urbanism can respond to consumer preferences, and be marketed as ways to redevelop communities so they are more attractive, prestigious and enjoyable places to live and visit.


Long-distant Recreation Travel

Tourist Transport Management and Aviation Transport Management can encourage more transportation efficient recreation trips.


Preference for Air and Rail

Aviation Transport Management and Transit Improvements can help make rail and bus transit more respected, attractive and enjoyable to consumers



Since prestige and pleasure values influence transportation decisions, it is important to be sensitive to them for TDM. This means that a marketing perspective may be equally important as a transportation engineering perspective. For example, it may be insufficient to provide safe, affordable and fast transit service, it may be equally important to insure that the service is comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, fun and promoted as socially acceptable to middle-class consumers. To be effective, TDM programs must respond to consumer expectations and preferences.


Some people may be skeptical that TDM strategies are feasible, because they require consumers to change their attitudes and habits. But there are many indications that consumers are willing to make such changes, and that such programs can be successful, including programs and policies that have increased recycling, reduced smoking and increased seat belt use. In each case, a combination of public education, policy changes and support services have had a dramatic impact on people’s attitudes and behavior patterns, indicating that consumers can support such changes both politically and individually.


Wit and Humor

A man walks into a bar wearing a stylish suit, a barrette on his head, and on his shoulder a colorful parrot with magnificent tail feathers. In a thick French accent the man orders a glass of the finest imported French wine.

The bartender, admiring the beautiful bird says, “Wow, that’s really neat. Where did you get him?”

To which the parrot replies, “In France. They’ve got millions of ‘em over there!”



References And Resources For More Information


Pasquale Colonna (2009), “Mobility and Transport For Our Tomorrow Roads,” Europeanroads Review 14, Spring, pp. 44-53; at


Jim Conley and Arlene Tigar McLaren, eds. (2009), Car Troubles: Critical Studies of Automobility and Auto-Mobility, Ashgate (; Introduction at


Graham Currie and Alexa Delbose (2010), Modelling the Social and Psychological Impacts of Transport Disadvantaged,” Transportation, Vol. 37, No. 6, pp. 953-966; abstract at


Marco Diana (2005), The Relationship Between the Specific (Dis)Utility and the Frequency of Driving a Car, TRB 84th Annual Meeting (


R. Diekstra and M. Kroon (1997), “Cars and Behaviour: Psychological Barriers to Car Restraint and Sustainable Urban Transport,” in R. Tolley (ed.), The Greening of Urban Transport, Wiley (Chichester).


William Jaeger (1995), “Is Sustainability Optimal?” in Ecological Economics, Vol. 15, No 1., Oct. 1995, pp. 51.


Fred Hirsch (1996), Social Limits to Growth, Harvard University Press (Cambridge).


Todd Litman (2009), “Mobility as a Positional Good: Implications for Transport Policy and Planning,” Car Troubles: Critical Studies of Automobility and Auto-Mobility (Jim Conley and Arlene Tigar McLaren eds), Ashgate (; at


MC ICAM (Implementation of Marginal Cost Pricing in Transport - Integrated Conceptual and Applied Model Analysis) (, a program at the Traffic and Transportation Psychology department at the Dresden University of Technology ( explores issues related to the problems and opportunities of implementing more efficient transportation pricing.


Patricia Mokhtarian and Ilan Salomon (2001), “How Derived is the Demand for Travel? Some Conceptual and Measurement Consideration” Transportation Research A, Vol. 35, No. 8

(, September 2001, pp. 695-719.


Patricia L. Mokhtarian (Editor), The Positive Utility of Travel: Transportation Research - Special Issue, Vol. 39A, Issues 2-3, February/March 2005.


David T. Ory and Patricia L. Mokhtarian (2005), “When Is Getting There Half The Fun? Modeling The Liking For Travel,” Transportation Research A, Vol. 39, pp. 97–123.


MSN (2006), Americans’ Love Affair With Cars Starts To Skid: Traffic, Bad Road Etiquette — Not Gas Prices — Drive Many People Off Roads, MicroSoft News (, 1 August 2006.


Jens Schade, The Acceptability of Travel Demand Management Measures, research project by Traffic and Transportation Psychology ( at Dresden University of Technology.


E.M. Steg, et al (1998),  Affective Motives for Car Use; Extensive Summary, Centre for Environmental and Traffic Psychology, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.


Erik T. Verhoef and Bert van Wee (2000), “Car Ownership and Status: Implications for Fuel Efficiency Policies from the Viewpoint of Theories of Happiness and Welfare Economics, European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research, Vol. 0, Is. 0 (, pp. 41-56.


Richard Wener, Gary W. Evans and Pier Boately (2005), “Commuting Stress: Psychophysiological Effects of the Trip and Spillover Into the Workplace,” Transportation Research Record 1924, Transportation Research Board (, pp. 112-117. Also see Richard Wener, Gary W. Evans and Jerome Lutin (2006), Leave The Driving To Them: Comparing Stress Of Car And Train Commuters, American Public Transportation Association (

This Encyclopedia is produced by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute to help improve understanding of Transportation Demand Management. It is an ongoing project. Please send us your comments and suggestions for improvement.




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