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Gaming the System to Beat Rush-Hour Traffic


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A busy rush hour on an urban road.

A computer scientist is using people's appreciation of incentives and competition to try to improve rush-hour congestion.

Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Stanford University computer scientist Balaji Prabhakar is applying humans' appreciation of incentives and friendly competition to improving rush-hour congestion.

His system offered people commuting to work at Infosys Technologies by chartered bus in Bangalore, India, credits if they made efforts to arrive at the office before 8:30 a.m. Accumulating more credits improved their chances of winning between $10 and $240 in a weekly lottery drawing, and the average bus rider's commute, because it was earlier, shrank significantly.

Prabhakar's next project involved promoting walking among Accenture's U.S. employees by using pedometers to accrue points used to play a game that generates cash prizes. Roughly five weeks into the project, the researchers enabled participants to compare their step count to that of their friends via a Facebook-like friends list and online news feed.

"Money gets the ball rolling, but we know from the data that having friends has a big effect," Prabhakar says.

The game model also was applied to Stanford in an attempt to cut rush-hour traffic through a federally financed experiment, with the result that approximately 15 percent of the trips taken by participants have moved away from rush hour.

From The Wall Street Journal
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