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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    New app to aid traffic flow

    Kimberlie Wang

    A Tucson driver uses the Metropia app during their daily communte. The app incentivizes commuters to make better informed travel choices, which helps manage the traffic flow in a city.

    Hate being stuck in traffic? There’s an app for that. An innovative app developed by a UA associate professor allows users to help alleviate traffic, benefit the environment and even receive rewards for doing so.

    UA civil engineering associate professor Yi-Chang Chiu said he began the development of the app, Metropia, in the summer of 2011. Beside the typical usage, similar to other navigational programs where users are able to input their desired destination for routing, Metropia also provides different routes based on different departure times to assist travelers’ trip planning processes.

    According to Chiu, the app aims to encourage users to travel at low-traffic times and evenly distribute their commute across all available routes to improve flow of traffic and decrease congestion. By decreasing the amount of time spent in traffic, users can decrease carbon dioxide emissions. This is because fuel consumption, and therefore CO2 emission, increases with the stop-start way of driving that is done in heavy traffic.

    “A key [difference] between Metropia and other navigational apps is that we want to trigger a behavioral change so as to avoid congestion,” said Xianbiao Hu, Metropia research and development director. “In Metropia, you can plan your trip ahead of time. You can see that if you leave for the grocery store at 1 p.m., it will take you 10 minutes, but if you leave at 5 p.m. it will take you 20 minutes.”

    According to Chiu, Metropia aims to modify the commuting habits of users by using a point collection system as an incentive. Points are not given out arbitrarily, but users must leave at the stated time and follow the given route to receive the points, Chiu said. The points can then go toward buying gift cards from different businesses that have partnered with Metropia, Inc., including Target, Amazon and Starbucks.

    “We are working with local merchants and artists to create this ecosystem of providing incentive for users to not only save their time, but also to decrease CO2 emissions and benefit the environment,” Chiu said. “And this is all done from small changes in their behavior.”

    The app launched in Tucson on March 18, and since then has accumulated over 1,000 active users, Hu said.

    “The more people that use this app, the better it will be because of the increased amount of data to be collected,” Hu said. “With over 1,000 people driving, we can cover a lot of the main roads like Speedway, Grant, and Campbell — we have pretty good data coverage.”

    Metropia, Inc. has also partnered with American Forests, the oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the country, to allow users to create a positive environmental impact. For every 100 pounds of CO2 emissions saved, Metropia, Inc. will fund the planting of a tree to support the national re-forestation effort.

    The app is currently available for iOS and Android devices for free. It is available in Tucson as well as Austin, Texas, and will be expanding to six more locations within the year, including New York City.

    “This app is a great example of how the UA can help promote research products, commercialize them and create a real world impact,” Chiu said. “And most of the people we hire to work at Metropia are our own students.”


    Follow Kimberlie Wang on Twitter.

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