With Mobile App Rewards for Cycling and Walking, Would You Continue to Drive?

Biking in Odense, Denmark. Photo by Rhys Thom / Flickr

Modern technology has revolutionized the way people interact with urban mobility and their cities. People’s movements have become inextricably linked with technology, in particular their smartphones. Today’s technology can call a car service, track your movement, alert you when the next bus is arriving and count your steps. What about taking this relationship a bit further—can it change people’s behaviors?

Experts around the globe are researching how to reduce the number of privately-owned, conventionally-fueled vehicles on the road. When one thinks of alternate modes of transport, one often thinks of biking in Europe. Although the Europeans are famous for cycling as a day-to-day routine, there are still many preferring to drive. So, how we can change their preference to public transportation, carsharing systems, electric vehicles, cycling and walking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

Empowering Technology to Transform Transportation

Horizon 2020 EMPOWER Project is using a rewards system to influence people’s transport choices, stemming from the mobile technology in our pockets. With 12 partners—one being WRI Turkey Sustainable Cities—EMPOWER is developing incentive schemes for cities, corporations and communities that are tested in LivingLabs in Goteborg, Helsinki, Manchester and Enschede. These experiments provide data about the most preferred incentives and services most relevant to each city.

Furthermore, EMPOWER is collaborating with 7 Take-up Cities (TUCs)—Budapest, Milan, New Castle, Reading, Antwerp, Odense and Bologna—on methods to fall out of love with private cars. The TUCs test a whole host of travel-smart initiatives including real-time information, reward and point challenges and the use of social networks to transform the transportation market and push individuals to choose sustainable modes. These apps, such as Commute Greener, Smart and Zwitch—not developed but adapted by EMPOWER—provide an open and flexible architecture for creating positive incentives in cities and industries.

EMPOWER intends to convert the loyal car-user into someone that chooses more sustainable modes. Therefore, when people first register, the app may require them to enter information about how they travel around the city. Based on what they say, the system sets tailored targets on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. According to the scheme developed, the reward could be a free coffee in a local shop, a bike product or a ticket to a movie.

Odense Will Cut Car-use by 15 Percent

Odense, the third-largest city in Denmark, aims to shift 36 thousand daily short car trips to cycling or walking, therefore reducing private car-use by 15 percent for trips less than 5 km (3.1 miles). To reach the target, Odense has chosen to promote cycling with positive incentive schemes focused on tracking trips, challenges and gamification. For instance, the city promotes cycling among students in a class of four- to seven-year-olds with a game called “Biking Friend.” For adults, they have another cycling app called “Ta’ Cyklen Danmark” (Go Bike Denmark).

In addition to cycling, Odense is developing walking campaigns with regular events at local markets, bakeries and supermarkets based on the app “Endomondo” (pictured below). When the app users reach a certain point threshold, they can earn prizes like those mentioned above. In addition to incentives, in order to reach the 15 percent target, Odense is focusing on increasing awareness of the campaigns. By utilizing social media platforms and creating flyers, cards, posters, magazine articles and decorating to-go coffee cups, Odense is educating the general public and paving the way toward its goal.


While many of these apps are still in their infancy, they are having a tangible impact. For example, even though “Biking Friend” started in August 2016, there has been a significant increase in the number of students cycling instead of driving to school since city representatives made 34 school visits to promote the campaign.

You Can Also Be a Part of EMPOWER!

 Although the TUCs are already chosen, cities and corporations can still benefit from EMPOWER’s incentive solutions. Interested groups can benefit from the EMPOWER Toolkit, mobile apps, workshops and conferences.

For more information:  https://empowerproject.eu/cities/follower-cities/

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