The problems of an oversaturated transport system and heavy reliance on single-occupancy car as a means of transport are well established. The consequences for the environment, energy demand (particularly where the car uses conventional petrol or diesel fuel) and for health, impact everyone.

Many of the measures previously used to reduce the use of single occupancy, conventionally fuelled vehicles (CFV) have been based on discouragement through regulation, taxation, restrictions and other punitive approaches. These have a number of disadvantages, particularly as they are largely based on ‘one size fits all’ and don’t take into account individuals’ travel needs, constraints and lifestyles.

The EU funded H2020 EMPOWER project takes a very different approach based around positive incentives delivered through smartphone apps, i.e. ‘carrots rather than sticks’. The EMPOWER project has a consortium of 11 partners from across Europe (Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Turkey), plus the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, with the University of Leeds leading the team. A wide range of positive incentives schemes have been designed and implemented ‘in real life’ with large numbers of the travelling public (between a thousand and fifteen thousand people) in each of eleven European cities or regions.

Positive incentives (points, prizes, rewards, information, social support) are offered in a tailored way to members of the public via a smartphone app, which they download onto their smartphone. With the individuals’ consent, two-way data exchange takes place so that further incentives can be offered in a meaningful way.

The Leeds Institute for Data Analytics plays a role in the research as the scheme generates very large volume individual location, mode choice and other micro-level data for each trip. This sensitive data needs secure storage and research access protocols, such as those provided by LiDA infrastructure.

A team led by Professor Grant-Muller has been applying new techniques to analyse this large volume data and produce meaningful insights into the travel choices people make in response to incentives. The data generated is rich in terms of completeness and context, however the datasets are complex to analyse as individuals engage and disengage with the schemes.

The analysis and modelling approaches developed are producing novel insights on the power of positive incentives in reducing the use of CFV. However as Prof. Grant-Muller explains, ‘the research is also demonstrating the immense value of new and emerging data forms in decision support for transport, health and the environment by city stakeholders’