The transport sector is one of the largest contributors to local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In comparison to industrial, services and household sectors the emissions stayed nearly the same. In Switzerland for example the CO2 emissions stayed in 2019 at roughly the same level as 1990.
The ETH Zurich, the University of Basel and the ZHAW conducted a research project on mobility behavior in Switzerland, the MOBIS-Study. The exact title is “Empirical analysis of mobility behavior in the presence of Pigovian transport pricing”.
3700 participants used the diary app “Catch my day”, developed by the Potsdam start-up MOTIONTAG, from September 2019 to January 2020. The test subject was the effects of Pigovian Transport Pricing, which means the external traffic costs in the areas of traffic jam, climate and health.
In Group 1 a third of the participants received a transport budget, where the external costs of their travels were deducted from. Group 2 containing the next third of the participants, received a weekly report on their external traffic costs, without having to pay. The last third of participants formed Group 3, the control group.
The mobile app “Catch My Day” makes it possible for users to record their mobility behavior seamlessly. The app captures different sensor data from the smartphone and uses a machine-learning algorithm developed by MOTIONTAG to detect the mode of transportation automatically.
The algorithm can differentiate between 10 means of transport, with an over 90% accuracy. Furthermore, the user can manually choose from numerous others and can add a purpose of the stay, e.g. work.
The recordings are automatically divided into stages and activities and enable valuable insights into the inter- and multimodal mobility behavior of the study participants, taking into account the strictest data protection requirements.
The research group concludes that Pigovian Transport Pricing has reduced external costs by 5%. Using private costs as a reference point, travel costs increased by 16% in the experiment. The elasticity is -0.31, which means a 10% increase in travel costs through transport pricing results in a reduction of 3.1% in external costs. The reduction in external costs is a result of the change in means of transport from cars to local public transport and bicycles.
The incentivized participants in group 1 show the clearest reactions. The car was replaced by a slower mode of transport, especially for distances less than 5 km, and the use of local public transport increased for all distances greater than 3 km. Concerning bicycles, the greatest increase of 25% can be demonstrated for distances over 3 km.
In group 2, which only received the information on the costs, no major change in behavior could be determined. This leads to the conclusion that the incentive to save coupled with constant information is a major motivator.
The experiment shows that Pigovian Transfer Pricing can work. There are several reasons for introducing such a pricing system. First and foremost, it would lead to an efficient use of the transport system and thus to lower resource requirements. Not only is it a flexible tool for congestion, but it would also be useful to address the challenges of climate change and air pollution. There would also be more independence from the fuel prices, through which the transport system is financed and which will also shift with the development towards electromobility. In addition, the survey results also indicate that there could be a political majority to introduce an external cost-based pricing system, provided that the revenues are at least partially used to finance infrastructure projects.
However, a pricing scheme as used in this experiment faces some challenges, such as a lack of social acceptance and technical restrictions on real-time tax assessment.
Overall, the research team notes that a simpler system should be introduced. However, this requires further studies that should be carried out over a longer period of time with a larger group.
Find the complete study here:
MOTIONTAG provides insights into more than 80 simple and aggregated mobility indicators. Moreover, our technology is already being used as a basis for mobility data collection for GfK, BVG, SBB, Swisscom, Infas, and ETH Zurich.
“My group has been engaged in travel diary collection and analysis since its beginning in 1999. Over the years the traditional way of collecting diaries by paper-and-pencil surveys has become less productive in terms of data quality and response.
It is difficult to choose between the two main passive alternatives, GSM and GPS data, as the access, costs, and data volumes vary so much. Here the abilities and quality of MOTIONTAG’s proven technology make the choice often easy. We are currently integrating them in a new time budget/travel diaries app to allow us to focus on the new survey elements: time use and expenditures.”
– Prof. Dr. Kay Axhausen – Professor and Chair of the Transport Planning at the ETH Zurich
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