Past Year

CommuteCon 2018

View all sessions

Leveraging Behavioral Science to Reduce Car Commuting: An MIT Case Study

Adam Rosenfield
Graduate Research Assistant
MIT Transit Lab

Session Description

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently made major changes to its parking payment structure as part of an initiative to reduce car commuting to campus. Graduate research assistant Adam Rosenfield of the MIT Transit Lab joined us to talk about the success of the school’s Access MIT commuter program.

MIT introduced a commuter benefits program as the centerpiece of its efforts to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips to campus. It has been very successful thus far. Looking at the time period covering 2004 to the present, MIT has seen its drive-alone mode share drop from 41 percent to 25 percent. Nationwide, the United States has actually seen an uptick in the number of solo driving trips over that same period.

The MIT Transit Lab wanted to use the opportunity to glean general insights that have the potential for wider application. One strategy that proved particularly successful was moving away from annual parking permits to daily parking pricing as a means of making it more expensive to park on campus, and thus reduce demand for on-campus parking space.

The change in MIT’s parking payment structure was part of a comprehensive “Access MIT” commuter program that also includes:

  • A free universal bus and subway pass
  • A subsidized monthly commuter rail pass
  • Subsidized parking at local transit hubs and commuter stations to help solve the “first mile/last mile” dilemma

Access MIT has had a major impact in changing commuter behavior among members of the campus community. Between 2014 and 2016, the program helped bring the percentage of solo commutes to campus from 30 percent of all trips to 25 percent of all trips, while increasing public transit usage from 43 percent to 48 percent. It also resulted in a sharp drop in the number of parking permit purchases.

The program has also allowed the MIT Transit Lab to glean some important insights into commuter behavior:

  • First, it found that each policy change triggered a response from the school’s commuter base, revealing the importance of careful program design based on practicality.
  • Next, the lab stresses the importance of collecting user feedback to find and fix shortcomings in program design.
  • Finally, it notes that “nudges” are only as effective as the things people are being nudged towards. For example, nudging commuters toward transit only works if the transit system is efficient and reliable.

Be sure to watch Rosenfield’s entire presentation for more details of MIT’s fascinating and enlightening success story.