Using gamification to encourage active travel

Intelligent Health’s head of research Dr Marc Harris has just published a paper in the Journal of Transport and Health.

Written with Professor Diane Crone, the paper entitled “Using gamification to encourage active travel” looks at whether the gamification of travel behaviours can encourage people to walk, cycle, or wheel.

The paper is based on the Beat the Street game which has taken place in more than 100 locations around the UK and beyond with more than 1.4m people taking part so far.  The game transforms towns and cities into a four to six-week real-life game where residents can earn points by tapping a smartcard on physical sensors called Beat Boxes placed around the area in return for points and prizes for the teams that walk, cycle and roll the furthest.

One of these games took place in the London Borough of Hounslow where Marc investigated the impact of the game on active travel by looking at when people played the game and also comparing how active people said they were before and after the game. Additionally, data was taken from a traffic camera to monitor motorised vehicles travelling along a specific road known to have a congestion problem.

One of these games took place in the London Borough of Hounslow where Dr Harris investigated the impact of the game on active travel by looking at when people played the game and also comparing how active people said they were before and after the game. Additionally, data was taken from a traffic camera to monitor motorised vehicles travelling along a specific road known to have a congestion problem.

The findings were:

  1. Over half of all activity undertaken during the game was between 08:00-08:59am and 3:00-3:59pm, which are typical travel to school/work periods.
  2. There were significant decreases in individuals reporting low levels of activity and significant increases in individuals reporting high levels of activity.
  3. 53% fewer cars and 53% fewer vans travelled along a target road during morning commute times and 33% fewer cars and 20% fewer vans travelled during afternoon commute times.

These findings suggest that turning a local area into a game could be a promising approach to nudge people into travelling by foot, bicycle or wheelchair.

Dr Harris said: “Active travel (i.e., walking, cycling, scooting, or wheeling to and from school or work) has a positive impact on the physical activity and health of individuals and can help reduce congestion, air pollution and climate change. However, owning and travelling by car remains the dominant social norm and only 37% of adults aged 16+ travel actively at least twice a month. We need to find innovative solutions such as Beat the Street to encourage more people to travel actively.”

Chris Norfield, who worked on the project, said: “We worked with Intelligent Health for more than four years to deliver Beat the Street in Hounslow and its great to see that it had a significant effect on physical activity levels and car usage around schools. It is a fantastic initiative that really brings together the community and is such fun to be involved in.”

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