Stanford test program rewards off-peak commuters

(KGO)
September 21, 2012 5:24:45 PM PDT
What if you could get paid to change your commute time to off-peak hours? It's a new approach to reducing traffic congestion being tested out at Stanford University.

Corrine Beck is a programs and administration manager at Stanford and she's also a guineau pig for a traffic management program, the brainchild of a stanford professor. A little tag on her windshield is scanned by equipment mounted on poles at university entrances and exits, kind of like FasTrak. If she changes her commute times to off-peak, she earns points towards rewards like money or a chance to play for more.

"I like when people are rewarded for their good behavior," she told ABC7 News. Beck is one of 2,000 Stanford faculty or staff participating in a test of CAPRI, short for Congestion And Parking Relief Incentives. Electrical engineering and computer science professor Balaji Prabjaker had an epiphany when he realized some of the same principles of dealing with congestion on computer networks could be applied to traffic. "Fortunately, in the online world, it's easy to add capacity. You can throw a fiber in there and suddenly increase the capacity of the system. The real world, its not so easy to add capacity," he said.

So instead, Prabhaker and his team of students set out to change behaviors, to get people to commute off peak and park where there's plenty of room. He says congestion goes away if only 10 to 15 percent shift away from peak time. But rather than using the stick, like higher tolls and more expensive parking during peak time, CAPRI offers the carrot of modest rewards. "They can co-exist. You can charge the congester and pay the decongester," Prabhaker said.

Beck says her rewards are three-fold. She spends less time on the road, has reduced her stress, and she's earned about $85, all by shifting her day slightly earlier without having to get out of bed any earlier. "Maybe spend less time reading the paper in the morning," she said.

Prabhaker and the CAPRI team will soon be expanding to include bikers and walkers in the equation, and put it all on a cellphone app. The test goes until April of next year. Then, who knows? It could be coming to your town.

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