Local public transport now also has to deal with security practices in particular.
Local public transport now also has to deal with security practices in particular.
( Source: gemeinfrei / Unsplash)

Public Transport Can rewards programs help bring passengers back to public transport?

Author / Editor: Cate Lawrance / Isabell Page

Public transport providers are grappling with the challenge to increase lost revenue in response to the necessity to shelter in place over the last few months. Reward programs have been previously used to entice people to partake in sustainable transport options - how do they work and what are their benefits and challenges?

There's never been a time more critical for public transport providers as passengers are slowly returning to work after months without the need to travel, and are grappling with best safety practices to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. The last thing anyone wants is an outbreak due to rush hour commuting. But also less desirable is the idea of people returning to their cars and eschewing public transport altogether.

Rewards programs are used in numerous cities to encourage residents to utilize public transport and to carpool over single-occupant car journeys. It's a model not dissimilar to the frequent flyer points offered by airlines and Uber Rewards. It entices people to change their behavior and build new habits through gamification through a series of incentives. Let's take a look at some of the programs happening today:

Cubic Stars

Stars is a proprietary digital loyalty currency created by Cubic, which is embedded in official city transport apps. In Miami, the Miami-Dade Transit app offers rewards when users view or interact with ads on the app, or use a loyalty-based transit service provided by MDT. Collected stars can then be turned into transit value and used to subsidize or pay for transit rides or redeem for various in-app offers. Cubic's Stars is part of a bigger platform they are creating to include targeted and contextual content delivered to individual users and interactive digital advertising on gates and ticket vending machines for users to connect with.


Miles is a universal miles earnings program that automatically lets anyone with a smartphone collect reward points or miles for all modes of transportation. Whether one drives, walks or travels by train, there is a reward that increases with greener forms of transport. If you carpool or take a rideshare service (i.e., Lyft or Uber), you earn 2x miles. Users who ride the train or public transit receive 3x the miles. Ride a bike and get 5x miles or choose to walk or run and earn 10x miles.

The participant can then cash in their reward across a range of retailers. They currently include a dog food retailer who offers $30 to a local animal shelter along with the dog food order.

The company recently announced that Miles will now further reward social distancing behaviors such as walking the dog, enjoying a solo hike, riding your bike to the grocery store, or taking a jog through your neighborhood, by awarding 20x the miles as you practice social distancing.

The startup's investors include JetBlue Technology Ventures, Porsche Digital, and Sony Innovation Fund.


The Incentrip app grew out of a $4.5 million research project funded by the Department of Energy to predict traffic and ease congestion in Washington and Baltimore. Upon submitting their destination into the app, users are offered a variety of personalized options - such as bike, car, train, or ride-sharing. They receive information about the length, time, and amount of fuel consumed for each form of transport to accurately predict traffic and to help travelers avoid both day-to-day congestion and traffic jams caused by traffic accidents, work zones, special events, and adverse weather conditions.

Users receive route recommendations and are rewarded for sustainable behavior. Reward points can then be exchanged for fuel cards, free transit rides, EZ pass credits, bike-share and Uber rides, gift cards, charity donations, or cash. Users can also earn points by inviting their friends, winning challenges, and reaching personal or group goals within their own workplace.

Hytch Rewards

Hytch Rewards is a mobility incentive platform with a corresponding mobile app created to suit a variety of functions depending on the needs of the organization that incorporates it into their offering. It can connect people to job opportunities and critical services, engage employees in corporate social responsibility initiatives and promote the habits of sharing a ride, walking, biking, or using mass transit, as users log their commutes in real-time. Every trip logged and validated on the Hytch Rewards app is sponsored with carbon offsets by the company.

At what cost privacy?

Of course, the dark side to using these kinds of apps is that the user's behavior is shared with one or more third parties, including their travel and purchasing habits. It goes beyond merely mapping a route to include anonymous, precise location data in great detail, accurate to within a few yards, and updated numerous times in a day.

The corresponding rewards are a highly lucrative form of market research to assist participating companies with customer profiles, customer acquisition, and retention, targeting marketing and responsiveness to advertising. For a chain store or restaurant, travel data is hugely beneficial when planning on where to build future stores or restaurants. Digital advertising encourages an 'always on' mentality as well as increasing brand familiarity and loyalty.

Then, there's also the thought that these programs mean the more trips, the more points, the more rewards -not so great at a time when we are attempting to limit trips to essential travel! It's unlikely people foolish enough to prioritize gamification over their health - this is hardly Pokemon Go, but its a consideration. There are many people already unconcerned by sharing their data with advertisers and social media platforms. This might be a fun way to encourage them away from their car and onto their feet, or to travel by tram or bus. The strength of these offerings is that they are basically white-label and can be customized to suit a range of passenger and business needs, including supporting local businesses that have been hard hit by COVID-19. There's some potential for some pretty beneficial partnerships, and it's an innovative use of gaming and app design.