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HOW MOTIVATION & INNOVATION CAN TAME TRAFFIC

How motivation and innovation can tame traffic

From getting more exercise to shopping online, our growing understanding of human behavior and rapidly-evolving technologies are driving positive change in our everyday lives. More so than ever before, mobile apps, transportation agencies, and private companies are using human psychology to alleviate one daily pain we can all relate to: sitting in traffic.

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From getting more exercise to shopping online, our growing understanding of human behavior and rapidly-evolving technologies are driving positive change in our everyday lives. More so than ever before, mobile apps, transportation agencies, and private companies are using human psychology to alleviate one daily pain we can all relate to: sitting in traffic.

First Up: A Look at Why Traffic Happens

Simply put, traffic is the result of too many cars traveling down the same road at the same time. That part is pretty easy to understand; what’s hard to figure out is why we as individuals continue to suffer in traffic instead of seeking out ways to avoid it.

The work of Richard Thaler, winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics, sparked great interest in behavioral economics and how people make choices. In essence, we are all creatures of habit who don’t always act rationally or in our own best interest. This is evident every day as people line up to idle on the freeway during peak traffic when alternative options such as using public transit, carpooling, or even leaving a little earlier or later could reduce their travel time and result in a better overall experience.

So bad habits are hard to break, and driving in traffic is one of the worst of the bunch, but that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. Research is finding that with the proper mindset and a little nudge in the right direction, we can overcome our ingrained behavior to form better habits, and many projects taking place right now are proving this could play a key role in reducing traffic.

How Incentives and Behavioral Economics Can Change Things

Over the years, many, many efforts to combat traffic have been attempted, but day after day, hour after hour, congestion still grows. Here are some of the lessons learned from past programs and experiments:

Saving money isn’t all that matters

As outlined by the FHWA primer, simply showing the economic benefit of a new behavior ("it’s cheaper to take the bus than to drive alone!”) is not enough to generate lasting change; other motivations play a significant role in shaping commuter decisions. Commuters must see the big picture and weigh many options before making up their mind. This is why Metropia’s approach weighs convenience factors such as travel time and transit proximity before presenting time savings, walking distance, and more when suggesting new ways to travel. Armed with the right details, individuals are better equipped to make an informed decision.

One size doesn’t fit all

A common feature seen in the successful projects highlighted in FWHA’s primer is a personalized approach. Every commuter has unique travel patterns, schedule, personal preferences, and rationale for why they choose to travel in the matter they do (even when there are better options available). This is why it’s so important to tailor travel suggestions to meet individual needs. Metropia’s platform, for example, uses artificial intelligence to understand each individual’s travel patterns and preferences and to suggest alternative travel options for their upcoming trips. By approaching each individual with the right message at the right time and progressing them through smaller, incremental shifts in behavior rather than pushing for major overnight changes, Metropia has successfully influenced changes in travel behavior.

Introducing behavioral economics into the equation

Today’s mobile technologies allow incentives to be dynamically applied toward influencing travel behavior. Metropia is a pioneer and leader in leveraging behavioral economics to promote more sustainable travel decisions, and through its platform it has successfully shifted travelers out of peak congestion times by intelligently using incentives as a nudge in the right direction.

A Few Exciting Projects Taking Place Right Now

In its report, FHWA highlights many of the innovative programs utilizing incentives from across the country. Whether influencing travelers to shift their travel times, routes, or modes, these innovative programs are effectively changing the way people commute and in turn improving the roadways for everyone.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) PERKS

To help reduce overcrowding on train cars during peak rush hour periods, in 2016 BART launched its PERKS program which uses incentives to nudge riders toward travel times when ridership is lower.

During the 6-month test phase of PERKS, Transbay peak hour travel demand decreased 10.9 percent. Now in the second phase of the program, PERKS is employing

Metropia’s predictive analytics and personalized incentives to better predict crowding, identify, incentivize and reward individuals traveling during the peak period for adjusting their departure times to outside of BART’s peak congestion periods.

Regional Transportation Authority’s AMORE Program

Operating in Tucson, AZ as part of the Federal Transit Administration’s Mobility On Demand initiative, AMORE (Adaptive Mobility with Reliability and Efficiency) pairs the convenience and innovation of ridehailing with the affordability and efficiency of public transit.

Whether looking for door-to-door transportation or a first-and-last mile connection to other public transit services, incentives on pricing and service prioritization encourage passengers to reserve their trips in advance, allowing for more efficient fleet scheduling and, in turn, lower prices for all passengers. As the technology provider for AMORE, Metropia’s Transit-Hailing product allows the Regional Transportation Authority to provide a higher level of service to passengers while maximizing fleet efficiency.

The Metropia Platform

Since its founding in 2012, Metropia has been blazing new trails in the application of behavioral economics to reduce traffic congestion and improve its app user’s daily travels. Metropia has proven that leveraging personal motivators (such as travel time savings and improved energy savings) or monetary incentives (such as gift cards and prizes) can gradually shift users towards more sustainable mobility options.

Past experiments in reward point distribution steered users away from rush hour traffic toward less-congested travel times. By adjusting the high and low values of points and encouraging its users to maximize their winnings, Metropia successfully shifted an encouraging 13% of its users in El Paso, TX out of morning rush hour traffic. A similar experiment in Austin, TX, which encouraged carpooling in addition to adjusting departure times, reduced drivers’ travel times by up to 10%. Finally, in an experiment conducted in Austin as part of ARPA-E/USDOE Traveler Response Architecture using Novel Signaling for Network Efficiency in Transportation (TRANSNET) project, Metropia presented energy savings percentages attained by following the app’s recommended route and encouraged drivers to follow them more closely in the future. A before and after analysis revealed that the median adoption rate for Metropia’s recommended routes increased by 8.6%.

To learn more about Metropia’s platform and it’s exciting projects, visit www.Metropia.com.

To read the full FHWA primer, visit here.