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Driving Change

Introducing a frequent flyer program for ground transportation

Will a rewards program help cities and companies nudge residents and commuters away from single occupancy vehicles?

A new startup has launched an app that cities could use to reward users for engaging in sustainable transportation.

A young company called Miles officially unveiled Tuesday a service that's positioned as a sort-of frequent flyer-style program: doling out points, or miles, for walking, running, biking, using ride-hailing services and accessing public transportation.

The idea is that the more eco-friendly the transportation is, the more points a user can earn. The points can then be redeemed for goods such as a cup of coffee from Starbucks or a gift card from Amazon. Cities and companies can work with Miles to engage users of the app.

Miles is the latest example of a tech company that's looking to tap into transportation and mobility data in an attempt to build services for cities and businesses. Some companies are building apps that offer a one-stop-shop of mobility options, and others are creating developer platforms for transportation tech.

The rise of such innovations shows how new mobility services are growing rapidly in cities and in workplaces, and how the management of data will play a chief role in developing smart transportation systems. As these types of services become more widely used, important lessons will be drawn around how to manage, monitor and maintain mobility data, as well as what data cities and vendors will want to restrict. (We'll have a session on this issue at VERGE 18 in Oakland, California, in October).

Miles was founded by entrepreneurs Jigar Shah (he's not the one from Generate Capital, he's a former Cisco product executive), Paresh Jain (a former Morgan Stanley executive) and Parin Shah (who has a Cisco software engineering pedigree). Jigar Shah, the CEO, tells me "mobility is a universal behavior that is largely unrewarded."

Miles is the latest example of a tech company that's looking to tap into transportation and mobility data in an attempt to build services for cities and businesses.
Miles has developed an artificial intelligence platform that can predict, pretty accurately, users' modes of transportation without much manual input. A user downloads the app, and it sits in the background of the phone and logs movement.

I tested out the Miles app over several days, and it could tell if I was walking, running or driving a car. The app also can connect with Lyft and Uber accounts to seamlessly tap into that ride-hailing data.  

Miles' app then serves up offers from brands, where users can redeem their points. At launch time, the Miles app was offering rewards from Whole Foods, Amazon, Target, Starbucks and a range of others. 

The first region that Miles is working with is the Contra Costa Transportation Authority in the San Francisco Bay Area, which manages transportation planning for East Bay cities in Contra Costa County, such as Martinez, Walnut Creek and Concord. The rewards (such as a free trip on public transit) for Contra Costa County can nudge users to take alternative and more sustainable modes of transportation as well as trips during off-peak hours.  

Shah said the service is valuable to businesses because it allows brands "to understand their customers near future." The companies can target hyperlocal and location-specific rewards and programs to a narrow subset of users. 

For cities, there just aren't that many tools available to help nudge riders to public transit or off of highways during commute times. Shah calls the app "predictive mobility AI for cities," enabling a city to "understand their rider."

Other startups building city services using mobility data include Coord, a company spun out of Alphabet (Google), and Citymapper, which describes itself as "the ultimate transportation app." SharedStreets is a project of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the Open Transport Partnership that seeks to find new ways to share transportation data.

Mobility startups are a hot area for investors these days. The scooter sharing startups, such as Lime and Bird, have raised hundreds of millions of dollars each. 

Miles has raised a round of $3 million from Urban Us, Scrum Ventures, Gabe Klein (a VERGE advisor) and Scott Kubly, chief programs officer at Lime.

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