Sustainable social networking services for transport.

Policy makers

The yearly growth of personal mobility results in increasing safety, economic and environmental concerns. SUNSET alleviates these concerns by taking a new approach to urban mobility management using the latest ICT technologies. It is about cooperation by information sharing and provision of positive incentives between travellers, road authorities and other parties.

Managing urban mobility means dealing with conflicting interests. The question of how to enhance mobility while at the same time reducing congestion, accidents and pollution is a common challenge to all major cities in Europe. Inhabitants, visitor or employees want to travel and use their favourite modes of travel. On the other hand, municipalities or road authorities want to reduce traffic to enhance accessibility. How to deal with these conflicting system and personal objectives?

people-centred approach

Currently, a variety of measures are taken ranging from restricting access to urban areas up to develop very advanced technological cooperative systems. However, changing urban mobility patterns basically means changing the behaviour of people, i.e., replacing the one habit by another habit or motivating people to change. The SUNSET project uses a human-centred approach and wants to achieve system goals like reduced congestion, reduced air pollution or improved safety by influencing personal goals in terms of stimulating people to change their individual travelling behaviour. To influence behaviour, we make use of rewards and incentives, rather than restrictions. This is a coaching approach to traffic management, based on rewarding good behaviour.

This approach is also innovative thinking as most of the time we put models and techniques central in traffic-related policy making. But the crucial link in traffic is a person, a person as a traveler, or as a road user.  What motivates a man to get into the car? How do people choose their mode of transport?  What information do people need to make better travel decisions? Knowledge of  actual travel behaviour and the key motivators for travel could help to find effective policies that leverage on positive incentive mechanisms to reach effects rather than restrictive mechanisms.

democratisation of traffic and travel data

Our human-centred approach is leveraged by the possibilities of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)  to create, share and personalise travel-related information. Moreover, ICT is becoming a strong enabler of a new reality of omniscient prosumers, i.e. individual travellers that produce and consume traffic and travel information, tap into infrastructural information on a personal level and exchange information through decentralized social networks in contrast to the organisation and dataflows in traditionally centrally organized traffic management.

policy challenges

Alongside the opportunity, the SUNSET innovations also raise a number of (new) questions which provide positive challenges to the field and which push on the boundaries of the current state of the art in terms of academic knowledge and understanding.

First, there are important issues in terms of privacy which, due to the speed at which developments have taken place, have largely been dealt with on a piecemeal basis. Examples include the tension between individual privacy and sharing of information in social networks or towards authorities and the tension between the public character of transport versus the potential for commercialisation. In the latter case. the axis of tension is between that social function of transport which requires inclusivity, and the potential for commercialisation, targeting or restrictions to access – through the cost of the technology for example.

Secondly, there are many questions and challenges regarding the changing playing field. A fundamental question concerns the extent to which city transport providers are ready for the new ways of working and relating to the public which the people centred mobility would require. Throughout Europe the challenge for city transport providers is to work with users to capitalise on the opportunities offered by these new technologies and systems.

One of the key opportunities is to be able to build on the much greater potential for information generation directly between travellers via Twitter, Facebook, or SUNSET type applications (for example on current delays, cleanliness and level of service etc).  However this opportunity brings with it considerable challenge to orthodox approaches and changes in the central control of information alongside an empowerment of ordinary people to ‘tell it how it is’ and to participate in governance. Moreover it creates new possibilities for new entrant information service providers in the field changing the rules of the game with respect to access to information and the role of public bodies versus private companies in collecting, enriching and distributing travel and traffic information.

One of the  implications is for a renewal of the relationship between  city transport providers and road authorities on the one hand and travellers on the other hand in terms of the medium, frequency and quality of information and interactions. However not only will the relationship between public bodies and travellers be revised, the way that different sectors and providers work alongside each other will be challenged too. Social media enhanced traffic and travel information offers considerable opportunities across sectors, for example for social safety situations, event and crowd management, tourist support or the well being sector to align, share and enrich information on travel patterns of individuals or groups. The question will be ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ as people and communities develop raised expectations on the timeliness, accuracy and quality of interactions and information they experience.

Are you interested in the potential of  the approach and want to share your thoughts, comments and ideas of application of the SUNSET approach in a policy context please join the conversation on LinkedIn. We would be happy to get in touch.