Making the Switch: improving mobility for the Port of Antwerp

On the 11th of October, the starting pistol was fired at the ChainPORT hackathon. What followed was an eventful three days were a team of Cnext’ers mostly worked on mobility for the Port of Antwerp. The result is a highly-personalized app that focuses on carsharing called Switch. By putting the data about employees to work, Switch’s algorithms calculate the optimal route for morning or evening commute via carsharing and switching hubs.

Easy carpooling with Switch

80 percent of the Port of Antwerp employees drive to work all by themselves. That’s good for a whopping 49,010 cars on the road. With our roads getting more and more congested, people start to wonder if they’ll even get to work in the future. Moreover, all those cars exhaust 250,404 tons of CO2. It’s clear something needs to change.

So for the ChainPORT hackathon, we developed Switch, a highly-personalized app that aims to get more people to carpool or use different modes of transportation. When we say personalized, we really mean it. Employees can create a profile and indicate preferences, whether they want a non-smoker, what music taste their co-pilot has, pets, but also which gym or coffee shop they want to pass by on their route. We aim high: our ambition was to remove 30,000 cars from the road each day.

Different pages within the Switch app.

A look at the possible UI of Switch and the profile page.

Multihubs as our foundation

One of the reasons that carsharing isn’t used more, is that it requires a common starting point and hour for the trip. To solve this, we looked at a research study that was done both in California and Germany that used designated hubs to meet up or switch cars or modes of transport. Our first step was then to designate a number of these switching hubs, hence the name of our app, for the employees.

We took the 16,000 records about employees, their work schedule and place of employment, and use that data to plot the different routes possible through mapping and geospatial software QGIS. Next, we let an algorithm, built with Python, look for the most common intersections between the different routes. The code determined the best of those and designated them as our switching hubs. The app used these switches to calculate your commuting route, not only through carsharing but also public transport, bicycles, electric scooters and more.

map of antwerp indicating the possible switching hubs with cirlces

An overview of all the possible switching hubs after a first calculation of the routes.

Based on the data we’ve analysed, we found out that by using multihub switching, the detour time and travelled distance decreases up to 25% when a quarter of the commuters use multihub carpooling compared to regular carpooling.

Quick and useful

Our goal was to get you in the quickest way from A to B through carsharing. To further optimize this we pulled real-time traffic data from various open-source data platforms. When a Switch user requested a route to get to work, the app would take into account current traffic conditions and make a proposal based on that and your preferences such as your favorite designated Switch hub.

Not only did we focus on getting around quickly, we also wanted to make our routes and apps more useful to the users. So we pulled data about the amenities, such as grocery shops, coffee bars or gyms, in the area and made that our basis of choosing the Switch hubs. By doing so, users can add grocery shopping to their route and the app will take that into account when calculating routes.

Talk your way through app

To make the app even more convenient, we used Microsoft’s Cognitive Services to build a chatbot. Instead of typing all your preferences into a box, you can talk with the bot to get your route. You can see our Switch-bot live in action below as our CEO asks for a morning commute at ChainPORT!


Offering the right incentive

Solving mobility isn’t just a technological issue. People are attached to the comfort and freedom of their own car. So to make Switch really work, we had to come up with a way to encourage people to leave the car home. We saw a huge opportunity in a financial reward. People using the app gain ‘carbon credits’ for every kilometer they carshare because they save carbon emissions that way. Consequently, they can spend those credits on different rewards the Port could offer such as gift certificates. Instead of costing you money, the total monthly cost of car ownership is 590 euros in Belgium, your commute makes money.

The Port of Antwerp actually gains money

While this might seem to just cost the Port money, increasing the users of Switch actually saves on costs. For instance, there are less costs on mileage from company cars and less is spent on parking space and fees. Most importantly, however, wait time for transport trucks. Now this costs on average 50 euros per hour for every truck that has to wait in the harbor. Reducing congestion and amount of cars in the port also reduces the time and costs for trucks stuck in traffic. Moreover, it will allow for a larger volume of trucks without having to make heavy investments into road infrastructure. Our calculations estimate that the Port could save up to 22 million euros a year through wait time reduction and capacity increase.

All build on the Microsoft AI platform

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