Completed research project: Virtual competition for energy-efficient mobility

What encourages people to go on foot or by bike, to use public transportation or to utilise other innovative forms of mobility more frequently? To answer this question, a team of researchers in NRP 71 developed the "GoEco!" app.

In order to find out how people are encouraged to go on foot or by bike, to use public transportation or to discover other innovative forms of mobility for themselves, a team of researchers headed by Dr Roman Rudel from the Scuola Universitaria Professionale della Svizzera Italiana (SUPSI) developed the “GoEco!” app.GoEco! creates a “Living lab” in which citizens test a smartphone application (app) that challenges them to reduce individual car use by:

  • tracking their routes, providing them with feedback on their mobility behaviour and suggesting alternative, low-impact modal options;
  • letting them define personal change goals and targets;
  • creating a community-based motivational system exploiting “gamification” elements, such as individual challenges, rewards and competition with peers.

The “Living lab” was run both in the Canton of Ticino and in the City of Zurich, two regional contexts that are very different as regards both the supply of mobility options and the socio-cultural attitude of the population towards mobility.

The GoEco! app’s effectiveness was tested in a year-long, large-scale field trial involving around 600 citizens in two urban areas in Switzerland. Notwithstanding a large drop-out rate experienced during the three tracking periods (after one year of mobility tracking, there were only 52 active project participants left), GoEco! demonstrated a statistically significant impact on systematic routes (decrease in car modal share, energy consumption and CO2 emissions per kilometre) in highly car-dependent urban areas, such as the Canton of Ticino. In Zurich, on the other hand, where high-quality public transport is already available, no statistically significant effects were found. Apart from the quantitative results, enlightening findings were gained from the experiment.

These findings are already being tested by researchers in follow-up projects, such as the ERA-NET SmarterLabs project and the GreenClass project funded by the SBB. Such new apps could be successfully adopted in other contexts and regions, particularly in those “car-dependent” urban areas where the dominant mode of transport is still private and motorised.