What started out as a smartphone app that warns motorists of traffic jams, road constructions and different weather circumstances, expanded to a mobility app that stimulates sustainable commuting behavior through gamification. The opportunities to reduce carbon emissions through this method are therefore massive. The app, named ‘TimesUpp’, is developed by the Dutch company Innovactory, that recently obtained a certificate on the highest level of the CO2 Performance Ladder. The Foundation for Climate Friendly Procurement and Business (SKAO) spoke to the founding fathers of this smart mobility app and discovered the opportunities to cut back carbon emissions in the mobility sector by means of gamification.
“The app of Innovactory originated from the idea to let motorists drive more efficiently”, says Lucien Groenhuijzen, CEO of Innovactory. With knowledge and experience that he acquired from his former employer, TomTom, he started Innovactory in 2013. “People travel in fixed patterns. When they frequently travel by car, they know that there will be traffic jams at certain moments of the day, but they are always surprised at the wrong time. This is why we thought of the departure alarm to warn motorists of traffic jams, road construction or weather conditions, so they can depart sooner to arrive timely at their destination, whether it be the office or some other appointment.”
After the launch of TimesUpp in 2014, Innovactory quickly saw a rise in the amount of downloads and users of the smartphone app. “We measured users’ activity on the app and analysed the data. In this research, we were supported by the Dutch ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW). Our analysis showed that users adjusted their commuting behavior. The warnings did not only help users to arrive timely at their destinations, but often times they also decided to skip traveling by car and work from home instead. This was unexpected, because we thought our app would initially help users arrive timely at their destination by departing sooner and taking more time to travel.”
The results of the analysis on users of TimesUpp and their commuting behavior have triggered the interest of the Dutch ministry IenW and local governments, that were searching for different methods to stimulate sustainable travel behavior. “If we can alter the travel behavior of 5 or 10 percent of the motorists, we could achieve great success in terms of sustainability. At the moment, there are only few instruments that can stimulate positive behavioral change when it comes to sustainable mobility”, says Groenhuijzen. “Furthermore, different governments in the Netherlands are developing programs that encourage car drivers to adopt a sustainable travel behavior. These governments requested us to contribute to the sustainable mobility programs with TimesUpp. And so, we developed a new version of the app to realise these programs while working alongside Dutch governments.”
Local governments of the Netherlands have now developed several programs to stimulate sustainable mobility. These programs are implemented in the cities of Groningen and Eindhoven, among other cities. “The programs are developed along with local governments. The initiators of the sustainable mobility programs are provinces in most cases, but also municipalities, for example the municipality of Nijmegen that soon will start its own sustainable mobility program”, says Stefan Bollars, program manager at Innovactory. The Dutch municipality of Nijmegen was the one to introduce Innovactory to the CO2 Performance Ladder. “The municipality submitted a tender for the development and implementation of their smart mobility program. In this tender, they made use of the CO2 Performance Ladder as an award criteria for its contractors. We therefore decided to obtain a certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder. Now, we have been awarded the project and obtained a level 5 certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder.”
In order to contribute to the government programs of sustainable mobility in the Netherlands, Innovactory developed TimesUpp to not only send users warnings on road construction, traffic jams or weather conditions, but to also encourage users to travel by public transport or bicycle instead of by car. To make this possible, Innovactory thought of a reward system. Groenhuijzen: “A group of people that make use of our app, which is 25 percent of the total amount of users, is conscious about the environment. This makes them more willing to leave the car at home and travel by public transportation or bicycle. However, the remaining 75 percent of TimesUpp users is not willing to travel by public transportation or by bicycle. For the majority of users, we must therefore think of a different system to encourage them to use sustainable travel options. A way to motivate them is by means of cash or credits, for example.”
The CEO of Innovactory mentions that the reward system can be implemented in other ways as well. “We want to encourage different people to travel more sustainably. For this reason, we are conducting tests on trial offers from public transportation companies and bicycle shops. Users of TimesUpp earn credits for each time they travel by public transportation or bicycle instead of by car. They can save up these credits and exchange the credits for free bus or train tickets or bicycle rides. This way, we can remove the roadblocks some people experience when thinking of traveling by public transportation or bicycle instead of by car.”
The combination of traffic jam warnings, travel advice that encourages the use of public transportation and bicycles, and credits that users earn by opting for sustainable travel arrangements, have led to a carbon emissions reduction of 2.000 metric tons among TimesUpp users, according to Innovactory. This CO2 reduction is achieved from the beginning of 2017 until the beginning of 2019. The amount of carbon emission savings was made possible by public transportation and bicycle travels and a growing number of users opting to work from home instead of traveling by car to the office. Innovactory expects the amount of CO2 savings to increase in these coming years. This will be made possible by growing the amount of TimesUpp users.
The positive behavioral change that Innovactory’s app has managed to bring about is not only of interest for governments, but for businesses as well. “Our latest development is the new smart mobility app ‘Ritje’, which allows businesses to encourage their employees to commute by public transportation or bicycle instead of by car. We see great opportunities for this app, because 50 percent of mobility in the Netherlands is caused by commuters”, says Bollars. “Most employers reimburse traveling costs when their employees travel by car, but not when they travel by bicycles. With this app, we want to advice employers to think differently. Reward your employees for commuting by bicycle instead of by car.” Groenhuijzen: “Employees who participate in this sustainable mobility program install the app on their smartphone and keep track of how they commute to work. We analyse the data and at the end of the month, both employee and employer will receive an overview of how many kilometers the employee has travelled by bicycle instead of by car and the amount of reimbursement they have earned for their sustainable commuting behavior. The employer will take a look at the overview and see how many times the employee has actually commuted by bicycle, for which the employee receives the reimbursement. The more they commute by bicycle, the more they reimbursement can earn. With this app, we show and confirm that the gamification of sustainable commuting behavior works.”
The app ‘Ritje’ is mostly interesting for businesses who find it challenging to reduce more carbon emissions after implementing obvious measures to save energy usage, for example. “In order to contribute to structural reduction of carbon emissions, we have set ourselves the goal to increase the number of users of our apps”, says the CEO. “It is an integral part of our services to encourage people to leave the car at home, whether they are aware of this notion or not. We want to contribute to sustainable mobility and CO2 reduction, because it is necessary. And that is what we will focus on now and in the future.”