Thinking about transportation with a “C.A.R.” framework

By James Arnold, board member, Saskatoon Cycles

I get car by riding a bicycle.

I’m a mostly retired clinical-community psychologist, and board member of Saskatoon Cycles. I mostly travel around by bike. I’m very interested in making people’s lives happier and less stressful by looking at things within our city. Environmental and community psychology researchers talk about “C.A.R.” factors as being key to making people feel better day-to-day, with less stress and more connections to each other. Better “CARma” means happier and healthier people. (As far as I know I made up the CAR and CARma abbreviations.)

What exactly do we mean by “C.A.R.”?

C = capability & competenceTransporting myself however I want: by bike, walking, bus, driving
A = autonomyIndependently deciding how I will go places
R = relatedness to othersConnecting me to my neighbourhood, community, and city

Capability and Competence. This means that you have the availability of a bicycle, bus, foot path to go where you want to go, and that you can safely go where you need without breaks in your biking or walking route. It’s pretty common in Saskatoon to have a good route and then run into a barrier where you don’t know how to get from one place to another. A good city means no hassle, or not being intimidated nor scared enough of car traffic that you decide against cycling or walking or adding a bus to your journey.

Autonomy. Being able to choose how we get to work and school, go shopping, go out for supper, or meet others gives us control and independence because we can decide how to go places versus being “told” by how our city’s roadways are built that we must go by car.

Relatedness. Cars have passenger seats for a reason: so people can travel together. When people ride bicycles or walk, they need to be beside each other, maybe holding hands, having conversations. Cycling and walking are different than being in a car because you can also talk to people along the way; you’re not prevented from doing so by being in an enclosed steel and plastic car.

People around the world are studying these CAR factors in active transportation. I took some questions from the “Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction in Active Commuting” questionnaire (BPSN-AC) and made this short “CARma” questionnaire.

Rate these factors from 1 to 5: 1= not at all, 3 = in the middle, 5 = very much. A higher score is better.

Where was the trip from/to?CARma Score
1. I feel that I have the necessary skills to walk or cycle where I’m going todayCompetence, capability
2. I feel that my mode of travel today fits well with what I wantAutonomy
3. I enjoyed my interactions with others on my travel around the city todayRelatedness

What’s your “CARma” Score on the last walk or bike ride you took?

What would your “CARma” Score be if you rode your bike to work or school?

We’re just starting to develop these ideas for cycling in Saskatoon, so please let us know your scores and comments at

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