Let's play: how gamification can make transport systems work better

Zoooooooooooooooooooom. Image: Getty.

Individual users and their behaviours are critical to how transport systems work. So how can we better incentivise their behaviour to achieve policy goals such as shifting transport modes and reducing road trauma and traffic congestion?

Peak-hour congestion and peak loading, for example, are the twin most pressing issues for public transport agencies around the world. The search for low-cost “solutions” to such problems is a continuing challenge. By 2031, public transport patronage in many cities is expected have doubled or even tripled in 25 years.

Australian governments at all levels recognise this increasing demand, but infrastructure investments are facing long delays due to funding shortfalls. Instead of building costly new infrastructure – for example, the A$5 billion Brisbane bus and train tunnel – can we use transport capacity more efficiently to defer this investment? That is, how can we shift demand from peak to off-peak times?

How about playing a game?

A game is viewed as “an activity that is voluntary and enjoyable, and governed by rules”. Gamification incorporates elements of game play into an interactive system without having a fully fledged game as the end product.

Gamification can be defined as the “use of game design elements in non-game contexts”. It introduces competition and social activity into behavioural interventions. The participants, such as public transport passengers, become “players” who can win individual or group rewards if they adjust their behaviour.

Conceptual gamification procedure applied to transport use. Image: author provided.

Recent evidence underlines the significance of a gamified approach to behaviour change. Currently, there are few case studies in the transport field. These may not be branded directly as gamification, but the concepts of these cases are borrowed from it.

Active travel

Gamified design has been used in the health field and can dramatically transform people’s health and physical activity levels. One example from the UK is the Beat the Street initiative: in Reading, it has encouraged thousands of residents to walk and cycle for health benefits.

Another example of such programs in Australia is Healthy Active School Travel. This is a free, tailored program proven to help primary school students, parents and teachers to leave the car at home and use sustainable travel modes to get to school. Examples include walking, cycling, riding a scooter, or taking public transport.

In participating schools in Brisbane, the program has helped to convert 35 per cent of single-family car trips to school to an active and healthy transport mode.

For these games, leaderboards are compiled and reported at all competition levels. Peer encouragement is strong. Low-cost rewards like stickers encourage students to make positive changes in their travel behaviour or participate in events such as scooter safety skills sessions.

Engagement remains strong throughout the year as each month has a new focus and a new prize. Examples include prizes for the “most children walking to school” in March, the “most children bike riding” in April, and the “most children scootering” in May.

Rail & road

Gamification schemes have just been introduced in a public transport context for the first time via Singapore’s INSINC program. This aims to shift demand from peak to off-peak shoulder times in Singapore’s public transport system.

The scheme manages peak-hour congestion by offering incentives for commuters to travel in off-peak periods. These incentives include random (raffle-like) rewards, social influence and personalised offers.

A six-month research pilot, launched in January 2012, achieved a 7.5 per cent shift from peak to off-peak hours for all commuter trips.Road safety

There are also many gamified schemes and interventions to improve road safety, especially when it comes to young drivers.

It is well established that they are over-represented in numbers of road accidents in any driver demographics. In Australia, people in the 17-25 age group made up 12.4 per cent of the population, but 20.5 per cent of driver deaths and 20.2 per cent of all deaths in 2014.

To motivate young people to drive more safely, many interventions have been developed, and car insurance companies have designed some interventions. Examples include:

These gamified programs are designed to promote safe driving. Such programs fall into two categories: monetary rewards and a reward point scheme.

What’s next?

Gamification is based on sound psychological and social theory and has had success in the transport field.

The important questions confronting transport agencies are not if and how gamification works, but where it may be useful and how to design a successful intervention. We know most about the approach’s efficacy in schools, but less about its efficacy with adults and in the transport context.

There is ample scope to harness a gamification approach in Australia to achieve transport-system-oriented goals. Radio Frequency Identification card or app technology could be used to encourage better use of new bicycle/pedestrian path infrastructure, or local area walking and cycling.

The potential to combine games and rewards with public transport travel is significant. It could provide additional behaviour change rewards for off-peak travel, encourage walking instead of vehicle access to public transport, or reward use of alternative public transport stops to avoid congested stations.

The outcomes could be tied to business-based travel plans where businesses can show improvements in their bottom lines from encouraging mode shift from car to public transport or active travel. Some of the incentives may then be underwritten through their savings.The Conversation

Barbara T.H. Yen is a research fellow in the Urban Research Program at Griffith University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.