Gamification: solution for smoother road traffic

By Basile Bouquet – Consulate of France in San Francisco

According to the UN, the year 2008 marked the turning point in which 50% of the world’s population – that is to say 3.3 billion people – became urban. By 2030, 5 billion people will inhabit our cities. [1]

This massive and rapid urbanization of our society amplifies the already existing challenge of urban mobility. Megacities have seen the average daily capita of urban travel lengthen over the years. The rapid suburbanization of major cities is the first explanation, but this trend is mainly caused by road traffic congestion.

2012 ranking of cities with  traffic jam

2012 ranking of cities with traffic jam

Road transport congestion is a critical element in urban development policies. It has a major impact in terms of:

  • Environmental: energy waste, release of  health hazardous particles, emissions of greenhouse gas
  • Economic: reduced working hours and productivity, reduced attractiveness of certain urban areas
  • Social: reduced quality of life

New methods emerge in order to reduce congestion

Urban policies strive to fight the phenomenon of congestion resulting from excessive use at a low cost of a scarce resource : road space .

While some cities like London have simply chosen to increase the cost of this resource in order to reduce it’s use, others are reflecting on more creative methods. This is particularly the case of Stanford. The American University seeks to develop new techniques based on “gamification” * and social interactions. The theory developed by Stanford researchers is as follows: “the right to create traffic jams” is a commodity like any other. It’is normal to charge those who cause these traffic congestions (responsible for associated costs) and pay those that reduce traffic. [3]

1. CAPRI [4]

Launched in 2012 by the Stanford Center for Societal Networks,the CAPRI project seeks to encourage motorists traveling to Stanford to avoid peak hours (between 8 and 9 o’clock in the morning and 5 and 6 o’clock in the evening). When a motorist agrees to the program, the car is equipped with an RFID chip.(radio-frequency identification) The latter allows you to record the arrival and departure times on campus. If the driver arrives or leaves somewhere outside of rush hour, he is assigned points. He can then spend his points in a lottery on the project website where he can win from $2 to $ 50.

2. INSINC [5]

INSINC is a project of the Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore bringing together researchers from Stanford University and the National University of Singapore. Launched in January 2012, INSINC aims to reduce transport congestion during peak hours by paying using a reward system (see explanation in table below) for those willing to switch their schedules and come to work earlier or later.

Reward system

Reward system

Description of the INSINC awards system:

Depending on the number of trips made ​​during the time periods of  6:30 to 7:30 am and 8:30 am-9:30 am, participants are classified according to four categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum.They earn one point per kilometer in mass transit from Monday to Tuesday, and may increase the number of points collected per trip according to their profile and the time of their journey.

With their points, they can participate in a lottery on INSINC’s website. Currently, $ 330,000, have been distributed to the participants of this program.


Big cities are now aware of the problems of traffic congestion as well as the environmental and economic impact it has. If London has tried to improve mobility within the city by increasing the costs of using road space, this does not seem to be the only solution. With its pilot programs, Stanford is experimenting with what might be a viable solution to reducing congestion. The question is whether the methods developed by the researchers at the prestigious California university will be able to be applied to a larger scale

– [1] Bulletin électronique numéro 323 “Ville Intelligente : quelle définition pour quels enjeux ?”;
– [2] “The ten cities with America’s worst traffic jams”,
– [3] “It pays to do the right thing: Incentive mechanisms for decongesting the road”, Balaji Prabhakar, Stanford University
– [4] Projet CAPRI, Stanford University,
– [5] Projet INSINC, Stanford University,

*Gamification: Transfer of gaming mechanisms into other areas