Smartphone-Based Interventions for Sustainable Travel Behavior

Principal Investigator(s):

Yingling Fan, Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Project summary:

This project is developing a smartphone-based behavior intervention tool for promoting travel mode shifts from driving to more sustainable modes. The effectiveness of the tool is being demonstrated through an intervention program, in which University of Minnesota (UMN) parking contract holders will be recruited to use the tool to achieve successful and lasting mode shift changes. This project is a natural continuation of the project team's prior work on a smartphone-based tool named SmarTrAC ( SmarTrAC can automatically pinpoint origins and destinations of trips made by the user throughout the day as well as automatically identify trip modes, duration, and distance. Building upon SmarTrAC's data collection capabilities, a new intervention-driven tool, called SmarTrAC-Intervene, is being designed to provide customized messages and action plans to the user after detection of each driving trip. The tool incorporates a combination of three strategies to promote mode shifts: 1) Awareness: Messages describing environmental impacts associated with each driving trip (e.g., carbon emissions) are displayed to the user. 2) Motivation: Messages describing personal benefits of a mode shift (e.g., cost savings and health benefits) are displayed to the user to reinforce positive aspects of transit and non-motorized travel. 3) Action: Implementable mode-shift plans are provided to the user through the phone. For example, if the application detects a driving trip made from home to a grocery store, the new tool utilizes maps of bike rental facilities and public transit services to provide information on how to travel to the destination by alternative transportation modes. This includes information on where and how to rent a bike or board a bus/train as well as information on the best walking/biking/transit routes. Collaborating with the Metro Transit and the UMN Parking and Transportation Services, the project team is testing the effectiveness of the tool among UMN parking contract holders. Free $20 Go-To-Cards are being used as incentives to recruit participants. Additional value is added to the participants' Go-To-Cards contingent upon meeting a minimum number of mode-shift trips as detected by the app. Based on prior recruitment experiences, the project is estimated to directly impact at least 3,000 UMN car commuters, resulting in significant congestion mitigation and air quality impacts in the Twin Cities region. Further, the project will demonstrate the new tool's feasibility for wide-scale deployment in the Twin Cities region and for providing an innovative smartphone solution to promote a sustainable, multi-modal ecosystem in the region (which would enable future integration with Metro Transit's multi- modal mobility ecosystem initiative).

Project details: