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​Balaji Prabhakar: Can digital incentives help alleviate traffic?

Researchers are reducing traffic congestion and commute times using networks that gently nudge people toward better travel habits.​

Heavy traffic in the Los Angeles area

Small changes in commute routines could reduce the negative effects of congestion. | Reuters/Eric Thayer

While well-known mapping apps have transformed the daily commute through better information, Stanford electrical engineer Balaji Prabhakar is exploring ways to digitally incentivize people to improve their driving habits.

He calls it “nudging,” and says that small shifts in commute times — just 20 minutes earlier or later — can make a considerable impact on the day’s congestion in highly trafficked urban areas, like San Francisco.

A few years ago, Prabhakar made headlines with a Stanford-only study that used small monetary incentives backed by larger lottery-like rewards to reduce peak-hour commuting on campus. He later undertook a similar but much larger effort in Singapore to promote off-peak train travel. In four years, participation in Singapore grew from 20,000 to 400,000 users.

Join host Russ Altman and guest Balaji Prabhakar for a look at the very latest ways science is improving the daily grind for millions of commuters across the world.

You can listen to the Future of Everything on iTunes, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud, Spotify, Stitcher or via Stanford Engineering Magazine.