Here’s how re:route works: After downloading the free iPhone app and signing up for a free Recyclebank account, a user enters a starting point and destination. The app will show different options, including walking, cycling (using either one’s own bike or a bike share) and public transportation. Upon arrival, re:route uses GPS to sense the end of the commute and rewards the user with five Recyclebank points. Users also see the calories they’ve burned, and CO2 they’ve saved compared to other transport modes.
One of the appealing features of the program is that it encourages small-scale incremental shifts. Rather than substitute an entire subway commute with a bike ride, for instance, re:route is built to exploit “switchpoints”: spots along a regular commute where a user could exit and switch modes. “So perhaps you exit the tube a stop or two early and walk or bike the remainder,” Yolles said. This increases exercise, reduces congestion and can shake up force-of-habit commuting behaviors.
Recyclebank worked hard to simplify what the user sees. Recyclebank teamed up with R/GA, a digital advertising agency with deep experience in building mobile interactive media. R/GA helped Nike develop their Nike+ GPS running app, which tracks, shares and rewards runners’ efforts. “We thought that was interesting because it’s also focused on behavior change,” Yolles said.
Behind the scenes, the complexity is much greater. The app relies on information provided by TfL’s journey planner, which serves up relevant data about location, travel distance and trip time, and helps calculate travel options. “TfL’s choice to develop and open that data to developers has made all of this possible,” explained Yolles. TfL hopes to use the data to guide future plans. As users and trips multiply, the resulting database can help TfL refine or augment existing transportation infrastructure.
Back on the London’s streets, users will find the program is geared to generate meaningful rewards quickly. By joining, participants earn 75 points. For each trip that is rerouted to a greener option, five points are added. A back of the envelope calculation shows that if a participant modifies each commute, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, the annual tally will hit 2,500 points, though it would be easy to boost that figure significantly with addition trips during the day.
At this rate, the rewards initially offered under the program are easily achievable, and include both useful and mildly indulgent offers. A quick sampling: For 75 points, participants can get £5 off a £25 tab for food, wine or booze at Marks & Spencer. For 100 points, they can score half off a Champneys Town & City Spas treatment, or get a free bar of soap at LushFree. Recyclebank predicts participants will be able to earn up to £250 worth of credits per year using re:route.
To tap users’ competitive impulses, the app awards achievement badges for accumulated savings, and makes it easy to share results through Facebook and email.
It remains to be seen just how much re:route can influence the tide of London’s commuting crowds. With a population of 7.6 million, plus another million commuting to and from the city each day, Recyclebank hopes to attract more than 100,000 users near term, with the ultimate goal of “motivating and tracking” half a million journeys per week.