Stanford offers cash to ease rush-hour woes

Stanford engineers have turned their talents and funding toward solving a problem that affects nearly everybody at Stanford and nearby Palo Alto: Rush-hour traffic.

Inspired by similar programs in India and Singapore, professor of electrical engineering and computer science Balaji Prabhakar is hoping to ease traffic congestion at Stanford during peak commute hours by offering cash incentives.

Eligible Stanford drivers are now given a chance at random cash prizes from $2 to $50 by arriving at or departing from campus outside the prime rush hours of 8 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m.

Around 12,000 Stanford drivers are eligible for the program, which will outfit cars with small radio-frequency identification tags. The tags will allow the actual arrival and departure times of drivers to be tracked with accuracy at Stanford campus entrances.

The random giveaway of small amounts of money are not expected to change the driving habits for a majority of the people eligible for the program. However, just a 10 percent shift of drivers to off-peak hours could make a huge difference in the daily headache.

Prabhakar called congestion “a 10 percent phenomenon” which is why the group will be happy at shifting just a few hundred cars to off-peak commute hours.

The project has received $3 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the University to put the plan into place.