UITP Awards: University of Maryland 'gamifies' public transport to tackle traffic congestion

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The UITP Awards celebrate the most innovative and ambitious sustainable mobility projects undertaken in the last two years in cities and regions around the world.

The 2019 UITP Awards were handed out during the Global Public Transport Summit in Stockholm. We sat down with each winning team to learn more about their project and to pick their brains about innovation in the sector.

Winner of the Award “Young Researchers”: University of Maryland for ‘incenTrip’

Tell us briefly about your project.

IncenTrip is a multimodal travel planning tool on your smartphone empowered by predictive big data analytics, behavioural research and incentive optimisation. The app disseminates predictive traveller information to its users, finds alternative travel options, and offers attractive monetary and non-monetary incentives to help form travel behavioural patterns that benefit the entire transport system. Instead of herding all travellers towards the shortest paths, incenTrip encourages more non-auto travels, usage of the underutilised mass transit system, and departures at less congested departure times, to address the congestion challenge and improve the system efficiency in an urban transport system.

What are some of this project’s key successes?

The project has received support from Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and Maryland Department of Transportation. Starting from July 2019, the product will be used officially in the Washington-Baltimore region by a user pool of over 35,000 regular commuters.

In what way does this project bring about significant change in the public transport sector?

By providing the right combination of information and incentives to potential transit users, the app nudges them towards long-term adoption of public transit. With the user pool through government collaborations, the project is likely to reach the critical mass to lead to increased transit ridership and mitigated congestion in the roadway system. This significant change in the public transport sector is achieved cost-effectively, without requiring any new infrastructure or major investment.

By providing the right combination of information and incentives to potential transit users, the app nudges them towards long-term adoption of public transit.

How does it benefit public transport users?

Individual users will have access to real-time and predictive information about transit and other modes available for their travels. By traveling with the app, users may accumulate incentive points, which can then be redeemed into cash rewards. Gamifications and challenges are built in to promote public transit commutes, offering an interesting way of participation.

What lessons can other organisations and authorities learn from this project?

The project builds a smart-mobility solution to potentially boost the declining transit ridership in Washington D.C.-Baltimore region and address the congestion challenge faced by many metropolitan areas. With the actual deployment, the experience in Washington D.C. and Baltimore will offer crucial insights for other major cities on how to better manage travel demand and design an effective incentive system to influence people’s travel behaviour. The app and backend technology are highly transferable and can be adapted to support the needs of different organisations and authorities.

One immediate adaption of incenTrip is to manage the recurrent and non-recurrent travel demand on subway systems using incentives. Offering incentives during off-peak hours and/or encouraging plan-ahead travel in the app will not only help each traveller save waiting times, but also mitigate the extremely high congestion and the consequent safety issues during peak-hours and holidays in a subway system.

Stay tuned for more interviews with the remaining winners of the UITP Awards!

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