3 Tech Ideas to Vanquish Your Driving Headaches

Moscow traffic

Even with the popularity of bikeshare and growing use of public transportation by Millennials, 87.8 percent of all commuting is done by car in the U.S., according to a January 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Also, in 2014, IHS Automotive found a 1.5 percent increase in cars on the road versus 2013 – the largest increase since 2004-2005.

images-2So Mobility Lab’s Transportation Techies group decided to address the car (or, at least, road-based vehicles) at its latest Meetup. More than 100 Techies attended Autopia Night, hosted at Artisphere in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia.

Here are three of the most interesting ideas presented:

Putting a Dollar Amount on Your Morning Traffic Jam

The University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Transportation Technology Laboratory (CATT Lab) wants just one type of data – all of it. Nikola Ivanov, the lab’s senior technical advisor, works with a team of 50 undergraduate and graduate students to collect, analyze, and visualize data from as many different sources as possible.

Data from accident reports, traffic cameras, weather information and even individual cars all feed into the Regional Integrated Transportation System (RITIS), a CATT Lab innovation. Their visualizations, impressive even among a tech savvy audience, not only pinpoint regularly occurring traffic jams but also dial down into one-off events. In case of an accident, how long were delays? Are there frequent accidents in the same spot? How would changing the road mitigate the accidents and the delays?

RITIS2Ivanov also noted that this isn’t just about commuting convenience. Traffic issues are costly in worker productivity and in actual dollars. Looking at the morning snow storm on January 6, he and his team calculated that bottlenecks on I-495 at 8 a.m. represented $890,000 in delay costs. The monthly cost of traffic can be as much as $25 million, according to Ivanov’s calculations.

By modeling data on when traffic jams occur, Ivanov said the CATT Lab can pinpoint reasons why and start trying to eliminate these significant financial losses.

A “Fastpass” for Your Commute

Another car-related innovation presented was an incentive-based traffic-management system called Metropia, created by Dr. Yi-Chang Chiu. Metropia is an app that allows drivers to “reserve” a commute in advance and provides rewards for selecting routes that start at offpeak hours.

For every commute completed, the user receives points with more points being awarded to those who avoid rush hour. The points are then able to be used for rewards such as an Amazon gift card, a gas card, or other similar rewards.

The app also allows you to track how much you saved in carbon emissions and, thanks to a partnership with American Forests, plants a tree for every 100 pounds of carbon saved. Users can also opt to put their points towards planting additional trees.

So far the program exists in a pilot stage in Austin, Texas, but Chiu said the early results are promising, with 74 percent of current users reporting time saved in their commute and 65 percent who are willing to change their regular departure time.

The app itself is free, but sponsorships are needed to provided the incentive rewards and money for tree planting. At Autopia night, some attendees suggested government-provided incentives or even cash transfers, but Chiu said private business is the key.

“In all, we have seen many great mobility ideas recently, but we believe only if companies seriously aim to solve the urban mobility and accessibility challenges in a fair and collaborative manner can we see positive, effective, and societal optimal outcomes,” Chiu said.

The concept of reserving a commute also has applications for vacation areas such as ski resorts, he said. The roads to the resort are jammed at the start of the ski day but, by offering staggered start times, visitors can arrive hassle-free.

Bridj – A Commuter Van for Semi-Common Routes

The city of Boston presents a different sort of commuting problem – namely, a river bisecting the city. Public-transportation routes can force those without cars to take circuitous routes that can be twice as long as the same route in a car.

Bridj, a pop-up mass transit system of 15-seater mini buses and user generated routes, is trying to address this. Using the Bridj app, individuals mark a starting and ending point and Bridj compares that data to the requests of other users in the area. It then creates a route and alerts riders where they will be picked up.

Matthew George of Bridj said the goal is to capitalize on already existing common routes to help city dwellers reduce their commute time or even ditch their cars until the weekends.

4211042907_e6068acd54_bThose who have traveled in Russia will recognize this system: it’s basically an app-enabled marshrutka – mini buses that run popular, yet not publicly provided, transportation routes in cities ranging in size from massive Moscow to the bucolic Yasnaya Polyana. Even though they tend to be privately owned, they are self regulating with a numbered line system and are a vital part of the transportation landscape.

Bridj doesn’t have set routes, George said, but based on common residential and business areas, users can rely on certain connections to occur daily. Attendees raised the concern of Bridj actually adding more vehicles to the road, but at $5 per ride, it is unlikely to cause congestion just yet.

George said Bridj isn’t presenting itself as the end solution in Boston, but wants to work with city governments and planners to find ways to meet demand. Perhaps Bridj vans will be the beta version of new city bus routes? In any case, it’s shaving precious time off of some commutes in Boston.

Moscow traffic photo by Sergey Rodovnichenko and others by CATT Lab and Mohd Hafizuddin Husin.

 

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