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NUS and Stanford study to promote off-peak train travel

10 January 2012

(From left) Assoc Prof Motani, Prof Prabhakar and Prof Chua during the media briefing

Researchers from NUS and Stanford University are working on a study which aims to encourage off-peak commute on the train network in Singapore. Through the "Incentives for Singapore's Commuters" (INSINC) website, commuters can sign up via their ez-link cards to earn credits based on the distance they travel on the Mass Rapid Transit and Light Rail Transit. Extra credits are granted for shoulder-peak trips.

The six-month trial project is led by Prof Balaji Prabhakar from Stanford University, Assoc Prof Mehul Motani and Prof Chua Kee Chaing of the NUS Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, together with Stanford PhD student Ms Naini Gomes. In addition to LTA, the study is supported by EZ-Link, Amazon Web Services, the Stanford Center for Societal Networks and SMRT.

Said Prof Prabhakar: "If the load in crowded trains was reduced by 10 per cent, then congestion measures, such as occupancy and the sense of crowdedness, would reduce significantly. By balancing the occupancy of trains across peak and off-peak times, a more efficient use can be made of the transit system while increasing passenger comfort."

The research team plans to enlist some 20,000 commuters for the study. During the peak period of 7.30am to 8.30am, commuters get a credit for each kilometre travelled. Shoulder-peak journeys, made an hour before or after the peak, will earn them three credits per kilometre. These points can be exchanged for prizes or chances to win monetary rewards.

With the reward system, Assoc Prof Motani believed the crowdedness on the rail system can be better managed such that commuters will have an improved riding experience with shorter waits and reduced total travel time.

Prof Chua added that if the trial proves to be successful, the approach may also be applied to other areas such as energy consumption, water conservation, health and wellness.

This project arises from the success of an earlier pilot programme involving 40,000 commuters in Bangalore, India, where researchers from Stanford University used a similar incentive system to change commuting patterns. At the end of the six-month programme, the number of off-peak commuters increased by about 20 per cent.

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