Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Paying people to avoid the morning rush sort of worked in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Last year the San Francisco Bay Area became the first laboratory in North America for a mass-transit incentives program, with BART offering rewards to commuters who shifted their morning commutes away from the peak rush.

The incentive model is based on the economic concept of nudging, explains BART, “wherein even a small reward can lead to adjustments in behavior.”

The six-month trial program concluded in February, and the results are either great or mixed, depending on your definition of “success.” On the plus side, about 18,000 people jumped at the opportunity to participate in the BART Perks initiative, earning points whenever they rode the train that could be exchanged for cash. (Participants took home an average of $3 a month, though 10 netted $100 or more.)

On the negative, an average of 250 people a day actually switched their commute to avoid the packed 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. rush hour—only 10 percent of the total number of Perks participants who rode to work in the morning. The behavioral change cleared up the equivalent of two train cars’ worth of bodies daily, but did not “result in noticeable crowding reduction,” writes BART.

“To achieve even greater levels of rider shifting,” the agency adds, “future travel incentives programs for BART would need to be designed to better target individuals who are frequent riders during the busiest periods on the transit system.”

Transit incentives have shown decent results outside of the U.S., reducing system crowding in Singapore and Bangalore. Whether the Bay Area will revive its Perks program, which was mostly funded by a Federal Highway Administration grant, is unknown. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority and BART are still evaluating the initiative’s results, and will determine how to proceed when their investigation is completed this fall.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a rendering of the moon village with a view of Earth
    Design

    Designing the First Full-Time Human Habitat on the Moon

    SOM, in partnership with the ESA and MIT, wants to accommodate research and maybe even tourism on the moon.

  2. Tech workers sit around a table on their laptops in San Francisco, California
    Life

    America’s Tech Hubs Still Dominate, But Some Smaller Cities Are Rising

    Despite established urban tech hubs, some smaller cities are attracting high-tech jobs with lower living costs, unique talent pools, and geographic diversity.

  3. a photo of a Metro PCS store in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    What D.C.’s Go-Go Showdown Reveals About Gentrification

    A neighborhood debate over music swiftly became something bigger, and louder: a cry for self-determination from a community that is struggling to be heard.

  4. A photo of couples dancing in a park.
    Life

    The Geography of Online Dating

    When looking for love, most people don’t look far from home. That's what a big-data analysis of interactions on a dating site revealed.

  5. South Lake Union streetcar with an advertisement for Amazon passes by an Amazon office building.
    Equity

    Amazon’s Slow Retreat From Seattle

    Amazon has long fancied itself an urban enterprise. Is its pivot to smaller communities a way to avoid messy politics?