There’s an interesting project that I want to report on, one that aims to put money in people’s pockets for riding their bikes.
It’s called Bicification and it was tested in Braga – Portugal, Tallinn – Estonia and Istanbul – Turkey. Actors involved along with the municipalities: KTH Stockholm, EIT Urban Mobility, Pinbike, CERTH and Nextome. Yesterday, the final conference took place in Stockholm with some interesting findings presented.
Around 500 citizens in each city were selected from those who expressed interest and each received a sensor to mount on the bike and an app for their smartphone. The idea was for people to ride their bikes more and receive in return a certain amount of money per km, plus some monthly bonuses and also points or vouchers they could use in local shops that joined the program. The cities received valuable data about how the citizens cycled, where to and when, plus direct feedback on various issues regarding the experience of cycling in the city and the program itself. This data can be used by city planners to understand the needs of the people, popular places, routes and times. Having these, they can plan accordingly for new bike lanes, bike parking spots and assess public transport necessity or car traffic volume. And, of course, the city gets involved citizens with sustainable commuting habits, healthy lifestyles and more money to spend on local businesses instead of paying for cars and oil. And a better environment, that’s friendlier to people, quieter, cleaner and so on.
The municipalities can choose to reward people with a certain amount per km and can increase that amount in the morning and afternoon, to stimulate commuting with bicycles instead of cars and they can also offer things like public transport tickets or museum entrances or vouchers for local shops and all other kinds of rewards.
There were plenty of interesting details in the numbers, like the percentage of women cyclists in different cities and the possible cultural and technical reasons for that, the influence of weather ( more like lack of influence ) or the most effective motivators. This was interesting, different people are motivated by different things: some do it for the money rewards, some do it because they want to be part of a community, while some do it to reach the top of the leaderboard. And there were plenty of lessons in there for cities that wanted to shift the behavior of people in a different direction. The concept of behavior nudging through gamification employed here can be very effective and engaging if done right.
But the bigger picture is even more important. While it may seem like a financial effort for municipalities, the costs involved are actually modest and let’s not forget that car infrastructure receives billions every year and no one objects, even though it only produces more traffic and more costs while taking up very valuable space, just like the oil industry receives incredible amounts of subsidies and gives back pollution, health issues and climate warming. Making people’s behavior more sustainable deserves all the money in the world, because otherwise there won’t be much left anyway. I think programs like these can be a very efficient and cheap solution for cities worldwide to better understand the travel needs of their inhabitants, motivate them and plan better transport systems that are greener and a lot more efficient than car based transport. You are aware, I hope, that lanes dedicated to cars move fewer people per hour than any other type of transport. There is nothing less efficient in a city than a car lane in terms of moving capacity per space occupied per amount of time.
And society could use a different way of thinking about the habit of cycling as a transport alternative. It’s not just for recreation and it’s not supposed to be so full of obstacles. It should be actively encouraged by cities and it should be rewarded for all the benefits it brings. If more people understand this, than they will demand it and become empowered. For too long we have lived in a system that mostly rewards destructive behaviors: are you greedy and without morals? Great, you’ll become rich and society treats rich people a lot better than it treats everybody else. This has to stop if we want a future that’s sustainable, peaceful and accessible for all.
So, tell your city you want to ride and earn!