If the arrival of spring is not enough to get you out walking and cycling, an EU-funded initiative is launching a number of mobile applications offering incentives to lead a more active lifestyle, reduce urban congestion and fight pollution.
Currently undergoing trials in eight European cities, the TRACE project is developing and implementing four unique tools focused on enhancing environmentally and community-friendly urban mobility, harnessing the benefits of widespread consumer adoption of mobile tracking technology on smartphones.
“We are taking advantage of the potential of tracking services to promote walking and cycling as a means of travelling to work or school, going shopping or as a leisure activity,” says Paulo Ferreira, the TRACE project coordinator at Portuguese research institute INESC-ID. “On the one hand, we are evaluating how these services can encourage behaviour change to reduce urban traffic and pollution and help people lead healthier lifestyles, while on the other we are looking at how tracking data can be used to enhance urban transport planning.”
Three applications – Positive Drive, Biklio and the Traffic Snake Game – are being deployed by TRACE to influence travel choices and improve urban mobility. Another, called TAToo, will help policymakers and city officials use tracking data to better plan for sustainable urban mobility.
Positive Drive, which tracks the use of multi-modal transport from walking and cycling to buses and cars, offers users information to make journeys more efficient and provides a flexible platform for almost all kinds of mobility behaviour campaigns, including rewards or coaching programmes.
“In order to change behaviour, we need to know behaviour,” Ferreira says. “Based on that, we can stimulate the desired travel choices. In trials we have seen that use of the app increases the number of people cycling, saves them money, helps reduce traffic jams and, according to parents, makes school surroundings safer.”
Similarly, the Biklio app also focuses on providing positive incentives to users. A cycle-to-shop application, Biklio aims to generate cycling communities in urban areas by encouraging people to go shopping by bike through offering rewards such as discounts or bonus items from local businesses, which in turn benefit from increased customers. Biklio is available as open-source software that can be used by the community to build tracking-based applications and campaigns for behaviour change.
“A particular approach that distinguishes Biklio from other mobility incentive schemes is the focus on the experience of the trip and end activity. By dynamically interacting with the user and by immediately providing a benefit at the end of the trip, the app fulfils the known success factors of augmenting the experience and providing immediate reward,” Ferreira explains.
Biklio, which has recently completed beta testing involving citizens and shop owners in six European cities, overcomes several important technological challenges, including ensuring that movements are tracked accurately and that the app has a negligible impact on smartphone data and battery usage, while being simple and convenient to use.
Comparable challenges and more were addressed in the development of the Traffic Snake Game. Initially deployed in the Belgian region of Flanders and now being rolled out across Europe, the application-game is designed to enable parents and teachers to monitor schoolchildren’s journeys to and from school.
A simple interface, automatic activation and deactivation, and game-like features encourage adoption by children, which allows parents to view the route of their child via an individual link to a secure webpage. It also provides important feedback to urban mobility planners on increasing traffic safety in areas children frequent.
“In Flanders the take-up has been huge. Nearly 1 000 schools are engaged in the Traffic Snake Game annually, reaching 250 000 pupils, and recently we have established the TSG Network covering 19 European Member States in which another 177 587 pupils at 1 192 schools played the game.”
With data flowing in from tracking applications, TRACE also looked at how this valuable information can be used. The TAToo platform provides urban mobility planners and decision makers with better information about how cyclists and pedestrians use urban transport infrastructure. This, in turn, should lead to improved transport/mobility planning decisions, for example regarding pedestrian-only areas and the setting-up of cycling paths and networks– a virtuous circle that will lead to cleaner, greener and healthier European cities in the future.
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