Stanford's App To Solve Traffic Congestion

Researchers at Stanford University are developing smart-phone applications that give commuters incentives to leave their cars at home, or at least to avoid driving them during rush hour, a Stanford professor said last week in Chicago.
The researchers originally developed the apps using Radio Frequency ID tags—like the passes commonly used for tollways— to track commuters in their cars and offer them incentives, via website, to alter their behavior. But smart phones have made the process much easier, said Balaji Prabhakar, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science.
"We're going to sense a person's behavior, and increasingly we're going to use smart phones," Prabhakar said Thursday at roundable on intelligent transportation systems hosted by Chicago's Metropolitan Planning Council. "And this data is used in an incentive platform."
The incentive platform works something like a frequent-flyer program, awarding commuters dollar-equivalent value for such behaviors as walking, biking, taking public transit, driving during off-peak hours or parking at underutilized lots.
Stanford University has served as a proving ground for the technology because of a pre-existing agreement with local government that limits the campus to less than 3,500 vehicles during peak commuting times.
"Stanford actually pays people to not get a parking permit," Prabhakar said.
The Stanford program has about 2,00o participants and has reduced rush-hour traffic by 9 to 20 percent.
About 40,000 people participate in a similar program the researchers set up in Singapore, where traditional approaches had not succeeded in reducing rush-hour congestion.
"It costs about $30 million to add a train in Singapore, and it's the kind of thing that you have to think twice about. But even as you add supply it doesn't really curb demand, it just gives people more options and it tends to focus demand at peak times more."
Participants in Singapore also receive credits for convincing friends to join the program, and like a social network, the app displays their friends' activities and rewards, which encourages competition.
"If your friend is platinum and you're silver—we, for some reason, don't stomach that," Prabhakar said. "Friends tend to inspire each other."
Because transportation agencies don't have a lot of money to give directly to consumers, participants can gamble their credits in a game of chance—similar to the lottery—for actual cash rewards.
"You don't want to have a lot of dollars to give away. You want a small amount of money to go a long way."
Prabhakar and his colleagues also developed an app for the city of Bangalore, and they also work on incentive mechanisms for wellness and recycling.

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