App promotes sustainable transportation options to UMN contract parkers

Researchers hope the app will help reduce traffic density around campus.

by Natalie Rademacher

If Kathy Quandt took a bus from her home to the University of Minnesota campus instead of driving, she could save more than $10 per trip.

These $10 in savings come from the costs accrued from gas and typical wear-and-tear on a car. Quandt, a director in the University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, learned about her potential savings from Daynamica, a smartphone application developed by University researchers. She’s among hundreds of participants in a study of the app, which is encouraging sustainable transportation behavior for people who use University contract parking. 

University researchers are using smartphone technology to automatically collect travel behavior data and provide recommendations for alternative transportation methods. They hope the app influences drivers to take more sustainable methods of transportation.

”Our idea is that if we can shift people who drive cars towards autonomy transportation, such as biking, busing and walking, then potentially we can manage travel demand,” said Yingling Fan, principal investigator for the research. 

After a trip, the app provides users with multiple transportation options and data on how much money would be saved if they hadn’t driven. It also predicts how many calories would be burned and how much carbon emissions would be reduced if the user had taken another method of transportation.

“It makes driving look pretty expensive compared to taking the bus,” Quandt said.

Quandt is enrolled in phase two of the research, which began in late January and will continue until May.

Participants are enrolled in the study for a two-week period. In phase two, they are instructed to review the recommendations, Fan said.

According to Fan, researchers are exploring how to reduce traffic demand because there is not enough space to create more roads in the Twin Cities.

“If more people are taking transit, biking or walking, you basically reduce the demand for road space,” Fan said. “Private cars are the least efficient transportation mode.”

The project, which began collecting data in 2018, received most of its funding from a $300,000 grant from the Metropolitan Council, according to the project’s proposal. The project also received $75,000 from Metro Transit.

People with contract parking in certain University parking lots and ramps were asked to participate in the project in March 2018. Around 600 people signed up, Fan said.

Due to the amount of interest, Anjeanette Roy, a grant administrator at the University, was not able to participate in the research until September.

“It really made me think about the different travel options, especially in the winter,” Roy said.

She learned through the app that she would save around $30 to $40 a month by taking a bus instead of driving.

According to Julian Wolfson, a researcher for the project and an associate professor in the School of Public Health, developing the Daynamica app, (previously called SmarTrAC), began in 2012 to measure people’s daily activities and trips.

“It is a similar thing to the kind of things Google and Facebook are collecting…We wanted to put that technology into the hands of the research community,” Wolfson said.

After getting people to view the recommendations provided by the app, Wolfson said the challenge is to figure out how many people will be incentivized to change their behavior.

“Encouraging behavior change is difficult,” he added. 

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated where the $10 Kathy Quandt would save came from. She would save $10 in gas and wear-and-tear fees, not including parking costs.