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How is digital shaping our journeys?

May 13, 2016

Transport planning is a socio-economic discipline. A transport network must allow the transport of people and goods in the most efficient way in terms of benefit-cost ratio.

A need for an evolved journey planner.

Transport planning is a socio-economic discipline. A transport network must allow the transport of people and goods in the most efficient way in terms of benefit-cost ratio. Now, the terminology here is relevant. How do we define the costs and the benefits of transport? As any other socio-economic discipline, the costs and the benefits transcend the simplistic definitions of monetary costs and journey times.
When we plan a journey there are a number of variables that we consciously (sometimes unconsciously) take into account. As a user, I see most of the journey planning apps to be extremely inadequate. Especially when I walk and cycle. Sometimes I wish I knew about that little shortcut that allows me to avoid traffic congestion, smell, and noise. 

On a nice sunny day, I wish I knew the journey that avoids tall buildings and allows me to escape their shadows. I would rather walk along a canal than on a road polluted with chaotic street signs and parked cars. Safety is another issue, especially if you are a cyclist. Wouldn’t you want to avoid that section of a cycle lane that has recorded the highest number of casualties?

If you like this, you’ll probably like…does this sound familiar?

Please do not misunderstand me: I repel the idea of an app that has the pretentiousness of choosing my journey and that can ultimately define, and therefore limit my “freedom of movement”. Instead, it should be my right to have all the possible information available to maximise the utility of my journey. As a customer, I feel the need of being comprehensively informed about my potential routes. Some of the information I would be interested in are:

  • ‍Air pollution
  • Acoustic pollution
  • Tall buildings - shadows
  • Sheltered paths from wind and rain
  • Panoramic spots, canals, parks
  • Points of interests,
  • Shopping opportunities

The Self Determination Theory (SDT) approach.

A well-known theory, the Self Determination Theory (SDT), provides further background to my problem. Although we are naturally incentivised to choose the quickest or the shortest path to move from A to B, this theory might explain why we sometimes do not choose the quickest or shortest route. As transport planners, we are asked to understand the impact of our work on both the individuals and the society. SDT focuses on the users’ motivations. Motivations can be defined as intrinsic when they move people to do something because it is interesting or satisfying in itself, whilst extrinsic motivation are those which move people to obtain an external goal.

According to SDT many people struggle to find satisfaction in the activities they perform because they are moved by extrinsic motivations. It is instead natural for individuals to self-determine themselves by following intrinsic motivations.

Future policies will be tailor made on users’ needs.

Planning policies have partially included social costs in the study of transport networks, but not much attention has been made to the actual preferences of users, that they take into account during the decision making process. 

Only clear and robust information relating to the users will allow the planning of their journey on the basis of intrinsic motivations, and ultimately maximise the quality of their journeys.

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