Get paid to avoid traffic jams

Cash incentives may become more popular than congestion charges, especially in the United States.

Countries around the world enforce stiff "congestion charges" for driving during peak hours in crowded areas. But is a punishment tactic the best way to fight heavy traffic?

Balaji Prabhakar, a professor of computer science at Stanford University, thinks not. And the $3 million research grant he just received from the federal Department of Transportation suggests the tide sways toward incentives not punishment tactics in the United States.

Capri, for Congestion and Parking Relief Incentives, invites commuters to enter a daily lottery. If drivers who use traffic-clogged routes to get to the Stanford campus shift their commute to off-peak times, they can win up to $50.

Congestion pricing requires legislation and is mandatory for everyone. “Incentives can be started incrementally and are voluntary,” Prabhakar said.

In the age of the smartphone, researchers developing strategies for better urban systems can think big while staying cheap. Initially, the Stanford system required sensors to detect signals from radio-frequency identification tags. Now, commuters can use GPS chips or other locators in their phones to enter the lottery.

John Markoff of The New York Times wrote:

Samuel I. Schwartz, a transportation consultant and former New York City traffic commissioner, says a smartphone-based system is inevitable, though he predicts it will be used for congestion pricing as well as incentives.

“Ultimately we will be charged, or money will be added to our accounts, by using the cloud infrastructure,” he said. “It’s so precise that you will be able to charge people for how much of Fifth Avenue they use and for how long a period. In Christmas season you may decide to charge them $10 to use Fifth Avenue for each block.”

According to a report from the Ericsson’s Consumer Lab , traffic and parking madness is the number one cause of stress in daily urban life.

Do you think incentives, fines, or a combination of both will help alleviate our traffic woes? What rewards would you like to see offered?

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[via The New York Times]

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