Teams of researchers collaborating under the European Union’s R&D Programme have created a mobile app designed to encourage people to improve their daily commuting and travel habits, helping inter alia to reduce traffic jams.
Are people prepared to change their day-to-day travel behaviour on the basis of advice from their phone? A European research consortium believes they are. With €2.95 million worth of funding from the European Commission-sponsored programme on Smart Cities and Sustainability, which is part of the EU Research and Development Programme, the four-country Sustainable Social Network Services for Transport (SUNSET) consortium has created a mobile app called Tripzoom. By providing smartphone users with a personal travel ‘logbook’, the basic aim of the SUNSET project is to encourage people to take public transport, cycle or walk depending on the situation. And while this might well save time, the primary goals are to reduce the environmental impact of personal transport, optimise costs and improve citizens’ health. Three ‘living labs’, consisting of volunteers in three cities – Enschede in the Netherlands (close to 160,000 inhabitants), Gothenburg in Sweden (around 1 million inhabitants, including the suburbs) and Leeds in the UK (close to 2 million inhabitants including the suburbs) – have pilot-tested the approach and the app.
Triple goal for the user
The Tripzoom app gathers smartphone data to build up a picture of the user's travel patterns, draws on traffic data to help users find less-congested routes, offers advice on ways of reducing the environmental impact of their daily commute and harnesses the social networks to share mobility profiles and create a social experience. Explains SUNSET project coordinator Dr Marcel Bijlsma: “The aim is to try to influence people to make smart travel choices.” Of course if the incentives are to be effective they must be genuinely useful. The Tripzoom incentives include for example information about the user's costs, CO2 emissions from the vehicle and calories burned when walking or cycling. In addition, to help the user make ‘good’ mobility choices, the app offers points and rewards. It also enables users to share their performances and choices with their social circle, thus harnessing “social networks to challenge groups of people to reach shared goals,” underlines Bijlsma. In cases where a car is judged to be the only possible means of transport, the app will draw on the social networks to find car-pooling partners.
Personal incentives, results expected
The research carried out by the SUNSET consortium has shown that cities which encourage the use of the app can expect to see a 5% reduction in traffic during the rush hour. These estimates are based on the fact that 90% of the 250 million vehicles in circulation on EU roads are passenger cars, the equivalent of one car for every two people living in the European Union. But will this initiative make any greater impact than more general awareness campaigns have so far? “We believe that a people-centric approach can make a real difference in influencing and supporting people directly to make the smart travel choice in a flexible and cost-effective way,” says Dr Bijlsma. And for those who might be reluctant to make use of the app on data privacy grounds, the consortium stresses that the individual will remain in full control of the confidentiality of all information which is gathered and shared with third parties.