ETH study on mobility behavior in Switzerland – the impact of external costs on mobility habits

The starting point


The ETH Zurich, the University of Basel, and the ZHAW wanted to conduct a research project to examine mobility behavior in Switzerland. The aim was to find out if external traffic costs in the area of traffic jams, climate, and health will have an impact on people’s mobility habits.


For this, they needed a tracking solution that could differentiate between various modes of transport and show the user their CO2 savings. Previous studies have mainly relied on surveys as the primary raw data collection method. However, they failed to provide all the required data, were complicated to implement, and were cost-intensive.


How MOTIONTAG helped ETH reach their goals


MOTIONTAG developed the diary app, “Catch my day”, which 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 to detect the mode of transportation automatically. The algorithm can differentiate between 10 means of transport with over 90% accuracy. Furthermore, the user can manually choose from numerous additional transportation modes and can add a purpose of the stay, e.g. work. Subsequently, 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.


For the study, the 3700 participants were divided into three groups. The first group received a transport budget, where external costs were deducted from. The second group only received a weekly report on their external travel costs, without having to pay. The last one was the control group.


With the MOTIONTAG solution, it was easy for the client to receive all the information needed to conduct the study. 


Feedback from ETH


MOTIONTAG’s solution was a game-changer according to ETH. Before, they were using surveys that needed elaborate preparation, were very cost-intensive, and also lacked accuracy. Using the “Catch my day” app facilitated the work process, very accurate data was delivered, which led to an overall facilitation in reaching the conclusions.


MOTIONTAG’s products brought the right solution at the right time and with all the experts working on always developing better ways to deliver the most accurate data needed, ETH was able to conduct the study with much less effort than in the past.


They are also using MOTIONTAG solutions for other studies, for example to not only track the mobility patterns but also obtain more information on how people spend their time


The results


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 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 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 of participants.

Find the complete study here:

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