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New startup wants to solve urban congestion through data and lotteries


If you’re a regular reader of Architect This City, you’ll know that I’m a supporter of congestion and road pricing. Any valuable good or service, such as a road, that’s offered for all intents and purposes as free, will never be able to keep up with demand. You need to price it.

However, the political risk associated with implementing something like this has made it such that few cities around the world have done it. London and Singapore are the two most common examples.

The more populist solution is to simply build more roads and highways, even though study after study shows that this doesn’t work. If it did, we would have already solved the problem of traffic congestion. And we most certainly haven’t.

Which is why I’m excited about a new startup that recently launched called Urban Engines. Their solution is twofold. It’s based on incentives and on treating people and cars in cities as sensors that feed back data into their network. Here’s a brief video. If you can’t see it below, click here.

The data piece is almost a no-brainer (provided they can get the data). The more data we can collect about the way people and cars move in a city, the more they’ll be able to optimize and manage the flows. The possibilities are endless.

But what I found really interesting is their incentives based approach. Typical road pricing methods are, one could argue, a punitive approach. As traffic increases so does the price of the road. (I like to look at it as efficient pricing.)

With Urban Engines, their approach is the opposite: it’s to reward people–through money and lotteries–for driving during off peak times. It’s smart because selling a reward program to cities will be a lot easier than selling a new charge.

Overall, this a great example of how startups are stepping up to solve some of our most important societal problems. For more information on Urban Engines, check out their website and this writeup on CityLab.

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