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Whether it's for public policy or parenting, it's the classic tactical dilemma: do you change behavior with the figurative carrot or stick?
A number of large cities including London, Florence, and Stockholm have used financial pain to fight congestion. Known as "congestion pricing," drivers pay a fee when entering a designated district with congestion problems. In London, congestion dropped by 30% and traffic volumes dropped by 16% in the program's first year. (Transport London reports that congestion has returned due to a number of public works projects).
Even though we all want to reduce traffic congestion, nobody likes to pay more for something, and that makes congestion pricing difficult to implement.
We wrote before about a program that reduced speeding by paying participants to drive the speed limit. Ars Technica posed a similar question: could you cut congestion by paying people not to drive during rush hour?
Stanford University is experimenting with this premise to address a notoriously congested commute onto campus. The program, called CAPRI, enters drivers in a online social game where they could win up to $50 for driving to campus outside of peak (i.e., congested) periods.
A second phase of the project also rewards drivers to park in less congested parking lots to reduce pollution and congestion from drivers circling for a parking space.
The results are not yet in, but on the success of a similar program in Bangalore, India the US Department of Transportation has awarded Stanford $3 million for further study.
If you carpool, ride transit, bike or walk to work already: thank you! Your actions have helped keep Portland's air clean and its roads less congested.