The world we live in is increasingly interconnected and global, but the transport networks that we use to navigate it still rely heavily on finite fossil fuels and the single-passenger automobile. Without a strong alternative to this model, transportation as we know it is vulnerable and must be innovated. Major factors that keeps many individuals from switching to collaborative, public, or lower-impact transit include convenience, social acceptance, freedom, and a sense of personal sovereignty that comes with car ownership. There is also the fact that in today’s world, it is often required that multiple modes of transport be used if a car is not present. Any new, sustainable transit model needs to meet these needs as well as the demands of our environment. At this point, public transit networks all over the world are growing, but a new social system of usership needs to be developed in order to make these networks successful. Individuals of all social and economic backgrounds need access to an alternative to car-centric transportation.
Social innovation must go hand in hand with technological innovation. While new technologies are being developed for the transportation markets, these concepts will not be able to find purchase with the public if the social systems are not in place for their use. It is this problem that the WeSwarm smartphone app seeks to address: the need for engaging social innovations as well as technological achievements to create a sustainable, egalitarian transit future.
WeSwarm is smartphone app that allows users to navigate multi-modal transit – both personal and public – and integrates the user’s transportation behavior into a game format, creating a fun and interactive way to travel more sustainably while simultaneously developing a wealth of data on transit choices. Users essentially map their trip using WeSwarm, and the application’s wide database allows it to suggest routes incorporating novel and collaborative transit options like carshares, bike shares, carpools as well as more traditional methods like bicycles, buses, and trains. Given a number of options, the user is able to choose their route based on four criteria – Time, Cost, Sustainability, and Health – and subsequently to compare their route to those of others. In this way, users compete with each other to win prizes and transit discounts, creating a public identity for active, engaged transit users. WeSwarm creates a fun and interactive way to use transit while simultaneously raising its profile and popularizing new transport methods.
Because of the data produced by WeSwarm users – data not only on transit choices, but on transit motivations – the app provides a platform for large-scale innovation. Hotspots of informal transit can be identified and capitalized on by local government and business, creating a symbiotic relationship in which transit users get discounts and services while these ‘transit hubs’ develop. This is what makes WeSwarm a perfect answer to the problem we address: it not only provides a technology to help users navigate transit more sustainably and effectively, but it produces the conditions for social innovation that will ensure the long-term viability of sustainable transit alternatives.