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We turned a London borough into an interactive game to encourage fewer people to drive. Here’s what we did.

We turned a London borough into an interactive game to encourage fewer people to drive. Here’s what we did.

Three people walk along a street

England only 37%Adults 16 years and older travel actively at least twice a monthly (walking, cycling, scooting, or using a wheel to get from one place to another). We need to find ways to make it more appealing for people to travel active for the sake both of our population and the planet’s health.

Active travelThis can help reduce congestion, pollution, and climate changes. However, in the UK – as in many countries across the world – travelling by car remains the dominant social norm.

Our researchThis is what the evidence shows. gamification – offering points, badges, prizes or spots on a leaderboard in exchange for participating in specific, non game-related activities – can encourage people to travel actively to school or work.

We created a gamification initiative called “Gamification” to test this. Beat the StreetTo see if it could encourage people to travel in London’s borough of Hounslow.

Visitors and residents of Hounslow could earn points tapping cards on physical boxes around the borough. Each time a player touched two boxes with a card consecutively, they were awarded 10 points. This indicated that they had traveled between the boxes. We made sure to eliminate any cheaters.

The six-week-long game ended with the top scoring individuals and teams (schools and community groups) being rewarded with prizes such as vouchers for craft materials or books.

Three people walk along a street
Many participants reported that they walked far more than usual during the game.
Author provided

We examined the effect of the game on active travel by comparing the time people played it with how active they said they were before and afterwards. A traffic camera was used to see if there was a decrease in motorised vehicles traveling along a congested local road.

Methods

I walked five times more than I would normally walk, which was a lot. I visited roads that I have never walked down before or even didn’t know existed and I have lived in the borough all my life!

(Male participant, aged 60 to 69).

28219 people participated in the game (9.6% of Hounslow’s population). They collectively travelled 96 849 miles.

In total, participants recorded 638,697 taps on the 161 “beat boxes” situated throughout the borough. More than half of these taps were made between 15:00-15:59 and 08:00-08;59, which is the typical time of travel between home, school or work.

A box mounted on a pole
One example of a beatbox, where participants tapped with a piece of paper.
Author provided

We asked 346 adults to complete a questionnaire about their physical activity before and after they took part in the game.

These results revealed that the proportion of participants who claimed to be physically inactive (defined by not participating in more than one activity) was higher than expected. 30 minutesThe average weekly activity (from 25% pre-game to 16% post-game) fell from 25% to 25%. And the proportion of participants who reported meeting the World Health Organization’s target150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week was an increase from 62% to 75% pre-game and 62% to 75% postgame.

It was definitely motivating for them, which then motivated us! They wanted to walk everywhere and refused to take the car to school once they started to get into it. So we’re walking to school only now!

(Female participant, aged between 30-39).

To provide an objective measure for behaviour change, we monitored local traffic with a monitoring camera. We measured the number and speed of vehicles that traveled in both directions on the busy Cambridge Road between 07.000-09:30 and 14.00-16:30.

A person on a bike reads a map
Participants in the game did more physical activity than usual.
Author provided

Our data showed that between the week preceding Beat the Street and the week following Beat the Street 1199 fewer cars (a 53% drop) and 130 less vans (also a 533% reduction) were able to travel along Cambridge Road from 07:00-09:30. 705 fewer cars (34% reduction) was able to travel along the road between 14.00-16:30. 36 fewer trucks (a 20% reduction) were able to travel along the road between 14.00-16:30.

These findings suggest that turning an entire area of a city or town into an interactive game could be a promising way to encourage people to travel by foot, bike or wheelchair.

See Also
A forest with space among the trees.

Implications

It was a great way of motivating people to walk, and also it helped to create a team. It gave you the motivation to get up every day and walk for charity.

(Female participant aged 70-79

One of the major issuesThe problem when trying to move people away form using cars and toward sustainable transport options is that cars can be seen as a symbol of power. high social statusMany are reluctant to let them go.

Another problem is the ingrained nature car use for short trips. Many people choose to drive because it is convenient or as a routine. There are many ways to reduce car usage. congestion, aren’t usually supported by policymakers, who may fear backlash from interfering with many people’s preferred way of life.

I was choosing to walk or scoot rather than take a taxi, and it was taking me longer to get home so I could add some points.

(Female participant, aged between 30-39).

Gamification can be used to create an environment that encourages behaviours such as walking, cycling or wheelingYou can go to school or work viewed more positivelyCar use is more common than active travel. These community-level competitions, which reward active travel with points and badges, as well as a higher place on a leaderboard, may have a greater impact on changing the social norms in the communities where they are held.

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