Stanford-NUS study to help ease congestion on train rides

11 Jan 2012

INSINC LAUNCH: The panel at a media conference at NUS Vista. The panelists (from left): Assoc Prof Mehul Motani, Prof Balaji Prabhakar, Prof Chua Kee Chaing. Stanford University PhD student, Ms Naini Gomes (left, nearest screen) shared how the web-based reward system works at the session.

THE NUS Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering in collaboration with Stanford University has launched a study which aims to encourage off-peak travelling by rail commuters. Led by Prof Balaji Prabhakar, Stanford University, Prof Chua Kee Chaing, and Assoc Prof Mehul Motani, NUS, the study will span over six months in Singapore, involving some 20,000 rail commuters.

The study, supported by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore, kicked off on 11 January. Called Incentives for Singapore's Commuters (INSINC), it comprises a reward system where commuters earn extra credits for off peak travel. Credits are earned based on the start times of commuters' trips at the MRT stations, tracked through their EZ-link cards. The more off-peak trips participants make (6.30am to 7.30am and 8.30am to 9.30am on weekdays), the more credits they will earn and the higher prizes they can win. Those wishing to take part in the reward system can register at

Said Prof Balaji, who is with the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Stanford University, "Congestion is a fragile phenomenon. It takes many people to cause it, but a surprisingly small number to get rid of it. If the load in crowded trains was reduced by 10 per cent, then congestion measures, such as occupancy and the sense of crowdedness, would reduce significantly. Thus, not everyone needs to change their commuting time, and then, not every day. By balancing the occupancy of trains across peak and off-peak times, a more efficient use can be made of the transit system while increasing passenger comfort."

Assoc Prof Motani said that crowdedness on the rail system can be better managed by incentivizing commuters to shift some of the current peak travel demand to off-peak periods. Commuters will benefit from an improvement in their overall experience riding trains, including shorter waiting times, increased chances of boarding trains, and reduced total journey times.

Prof Chua, Head, NUS Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, added that the project will allow them to test the Stanford framework of using positive incentives, fast online feedback and social networking to effect behaviour changes within the Singapore context.

"If successful, the approach may also be applicable to other large societal problems such as energy consumption, water conservation, health and wellness," said Prof Chua.

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The Straits Times, 11 Jan 2012, page B2
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