Managing Director of the City Science Initiative at the MIT Media Lab

Where do you see the greatest challenges for modern, needs-based and sustainable transport planning?

The greatest challenge is to shift our priori- ties from an auto-centric planning strategy involving private, gasoline powered, human- driven automobiles with very low vehicle oc- cupancy to one where cities and their mobility systems are designed for walking, biking, and mass transit. This shift will free up vast amounts of land in our urban centers that were devoted to parking, which can now be used for housing, parks, cafes, and other ur- ban amenities. This, in the long run, enables cities to be much more compact and walka- ble. This shift will also create positive feed- back loops by increasing transit ridership by solving the first and last mile problem.

What contribution can research make in this context?

The research we are doing in Persuasive Mo- bility is key to developing a scientific frame- work for understanding what motivates hu- man mobility behavior in urban environments. By developing technologies that enable per- suasive (not coercive) engagement through a series of pilot tests, we will be able to levera- ge known “nudge” behaviors such as social incentives, collective rewards, and other forms of social influence to induce sustainable and healthy transportation mode choices. If the research creates a new pathway to low- energy mobility (like biking or walking) and creates the “modal shifts” that transportation planners so desire, then we have made a contribution to this field of research.

What are the benefits of collaboration with AIT for your institution?

Collaborating with AIT has enabled us to fo- cus on an area of mutual interest and has provided intellectual resources – a team com- posed of MIT and AIT researchers – to design, test, and deploy pilot studies of Persuasive Technology. The ability to reach a European (with AIT) and American (with MIT) audience is also a great asset to scaling this research globally. The expertise from both sides are complementary and we have been able to form a dynamic and energetic team to tackle these issues.n