Cash Rewards May Cut Through Traffic Congestion

By Sophie Bushwick | July 31, 2012 1:22 pm

A traffic jam in Singapore

Nobody likes morning commute traffic. Inching along at 5 miles per hour is not only incredibly frustrating, it also yields plenty of pollution. Reducing the cars on road by even just 10 percent during peak times could significantly shrink congestion—but people are unwilling to wake up early or show up to work late just to avoid the peak-traffic time window.

Unless, that is, they have some financial incentive.

Stanford professor Balaji Prabhakar has instituted traffic-relief programs in India and Singapore, and his latest one, Congestion and Parking Relief Incentives, or Capri, is located closer to home, on Stanford University’s campus. Cyrus Fariar describes Capri at Ars Technica:

At its core, the program incentivizes off-peak travel by offering “credits” for people who travel outside of the main commuting time, sort of like a frequent-flyer program. Those credits can then, in turn, be redeemed for a chance to play an online game for cash prizes. So far, Prabhakar and his team have given away S$160,000 ($128,000) in Singapore, and $31,000 at Stanford. In fact, he even teaches a class on the subject: “Incentive Mechanisms for Societal Networks.”

So far, the Capri team hasn’t publicly released any specific data on how well the program has worked, but some users have reported a dramatic drop in their own commuting times—as large as dropping from 25 minutes to 7 minutes.

In contrast to existing programs that fine commuters for travelling during peak travel times, Capri’s participants can earn points for travelling during off-peak times and parking in less popular, albeit less convenient, parking lots. These points can be redeemed directly for cash, or for the opportunity to play a game of chance that offers the possibility of even greater winnings. But although Capri’s participants have enjoyed the advantages of shorter commutes and financial rewards, no information about the program’s impact on overall traffic has been announced. We can only hope such a report is coming soon!

For more information, check out the article at Ars Technica.

Image courtesy of / Flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology
  • floodmouse

    I approve of having less pollution from traffic – but to my way of thinking, this is an unnecessarily complicated solution to an unnecessary problem. Since I started my bicycle commute, I no longer have to pay gas, car insurance, or monthly car payments – not to mention oil changes, tire rotations, and miscellaneous unwarrantied repairs. According to a brochure I got from the League of Michigan Bicyclists, it costs $6000-$8000 a year to operate a motor vehicle, but I think I was spending more than that. (It depends on what you drive, I suppose.) That is $6000-$8000+ a year that goes directly into my pocket – I don’t have to accumulate voucher points so I can play an online game of chance where I might (or might not) win something. :)

    Another benefit is that I don’t have to pay gym fees, because I am using a real bike instead of a stationary exercise bike. It takes a little longer to bike than drive to my job – about 30-45 minutes instead of 15-25 – but I don’t have to get up early to do aerobics, or try to talk myself into doing an hour of aerobics when I get home.

    All of these benefits are extremely obvious, once you stop to think about it – but they haven’t been widely publicized. Information about effective bicycle commuting is just not available without scavenging widely on the web, and engaging in trial & error. When I get some extra time, I’m going to post my own experiences and a list of low-cost gear that saves you a lot of hassles (i.e., tools for changing bike tires, and lightweight waterproof clothes in case you get rained on).

  • Pippa

    For bikes to work we need people living closer to where they work and bike lanes. In many cities cycling is close to suicidal behaviour and for many communities the distance is too long. Those who can afford to live down town can afford a car! There are some things that a community could do, eg. – –
    Subsidize housing down town with a bike rack and no parking, other than for communal vehicles which one can join in with or decline.
    Reward businesses for starting later/earlier.
    Send teenagers to school later and keep them there later – not only do they get better sleep and learn more but it has the added benefit of keeping them busy and out of trouble in the evenings.
    Improve public transportation and increase parking fees, using this money to subsidize public transportation.

  • John Lerch

    It seems to me that like the inter-states which seemed to offer a shorter commute this will just increase the number of slots for other people to fill from further out in the suburbs; so the congestion will be the same.

  • Margaret Bartley

    The other nice advantage to supporting floodmouse’s solution is that it will cut down on population, since this option is not available to parents. As yet another way society could make parenting more difficult, it could cut down on people’s decisions to have kids. Although once you’ve got one child, it doesn’t really add to the incremental cost of having more kids, it’s really just a life-style choice of being childless as well as carless. In fact, they seem to go hand-in-hand.

  • Kaviani

    That’s fine for 24hr workplaces or “freelance” people who set their own schedules, but impractical for us majority 8-5 monkeys with rigid in-times. Our companies are not going to extend hours (and therefore, electricity costs) to suit little ol’ us or even road congestion, which in my case is 2 time zones away from corporate hq.

    I much more support Floodmouse’s spirit/efforts and any others to REDUCE the number of cars overall. Public transport grants to improve efficiency and buy new, less-toxic machinery is what we need, but it’s clear that the Federal government is still humping the 2-cars-per-household dream that’s failed us miserably (while lining auto industry coffers either directly or by bail out).

  • Mer

    My workplace has core hours of 10-3, so I work from 10-7. A number of my coworkers leave between 3 and 4 pm. I can’t bike or take the bus because I’m disabled and there aren’t benches at the bus stops where I need to wait. It works out okay.

  • Frank

    I think some incentives can be made through insurance. Pay as you go (PAYG) insurance, coupled with real-time GPS technology will enable more accurate pricing of risk, making it cheaper to commute (or use overall) less congested/risky roads. Besides this, PAYG has the promise of fixing what I view as a huge unfairness: why should my parked car pay the same risk premium as a moving one during peak-time? Once the technology becomes available, it may be easier (plugging into the GPS data stream) for authorities to apply incentives.

  • floodmouse

    Pippa said: “In many cities cycling is close to suicidal behaviour and for many communities the distance is too long. Those who can afford to live down town can afford a car!”

    I’m sure all cities are different. In the city where I live, there are lots of very inexpensive houses downtown. There is a housing rehab project at work, rehabilitating old houses and trying to sell them as more “upscale” housing. Then there are us do-it-yourselfers, who just buy the house “as is” and make our own improvements. The issue with living downtown is not expense, but prestige. Lots of people invest their status or self-esteem in buying a newer and more expensive house in the suburbs. It’s a local political grievance – how they come downtown to work and collect their paychecks, sucking money out of the city, then go home to the suburbs where they shop and pay taxes to another city.

    Also, we have pretty good bike lanes. There was a “safe streets” initiative, and things seem to get continuously better. The bike lanes are underutilized, but I do see lots of students and a few other people using the bike lanes in good weather. I only know of 2 all-weather bike commuters, myself and a super-fit young guy who passes me almost every single day on the road. (Hare and tortoise – guess which one I am.)

  • Thunderstruck

    Biking sounds like a great idea, if your area is safe enough to travel by bike. The country needs more physical exercise to curb weight issues. The problem I can’t see a solution to, is for those of us who work in an office environment, arriving to work after a decent length bike ride would leave you sweaty and feeling less than comfortable for the rest of the day, even with a change of clothes. No one wants to be hot and smelly and covered with sweat for their morning meetings. My brother is a biking finatic for life.. and he has done a 40 min bike ride to work at our family business, but the office consisted of his boss (our mother) and two other employees.. and sitting in sweat I guess didn’t bother Him.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar