People walking in Martin Place station underground. A large monitor shows an ad with stick figure people: one is green, seated, and listening and singing to their music; the other figures are black - one is pregnant, the other uses a walking stick, and the other stands

Using social norms on public transport

Below is an example of how social norms can encourage a change toward a desired behaviour. A sign at Martin Place station, in Sydney, reminds people: ‘Some reasons for needing a seat are harder to spot than others.’ This is known as behavioural insights – the use of behavioural and social sciences like psychology, economics, anthropology and sociology for social policy and services.

The tricky thing with using social norms is that culture matters and the effects can sometimes have the opposite outcome (backfire effect). This ad is encouraging people to consider that others may need a seat on public transport.

A complementary ad in this campaign encourages people to ask for seats if they need it.

In other countries like the UK, other campaigns have used stickers that pregnant people can put on their bags so others know they need a seat.

There’s another way to address this issue, which is essentially about addressing overcrowding. This requires a structural change. Can you think of what that might be?

People walking in Martin Place station underground. A large monitor shows an ad with stick figure people: one is green, seated, and listening and singing to their music; the other figures are black - one is pregnant, the other uses a walking stick, and the other stands

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