They annoy me immensely, being scattered around the city. But I have a solution to the problem, and it envolves tapping into people’s love for rewards. I would love to continue to be able to elegantly glide through the city on my way to the next meeting. So, we have to avoid electric scooters from getting banned.
Article orginally published in Adresseavisen Midtnorsk debatt on August 7th, 2020.
I'll be frank – I like electric scooters. They allow me to fly across town when I’m running late. They’re easy to find and easy to pay for through a mobile app. Moreover, they’re fun to ride, also for middle-aged ladies at the top of their game and in high heels!
Electric scooters have become an integral part of the cities' transport systems. Together with city bikes, they cover the need for micro transportation, which is not covered by traditional means of transport.
But, I very much dislike the chaos they create in the city, and that they’re scattered along the streets, hindering pedestrians—especially those with disabilities. At the moment, I feel this should be forbidden, and I believe I’m not the only one. However, if everything that annoys us were to be banned, not much would be left.
Use people’s love for rewards as motivation
So, let’s have a closer look at the problem. Instead of punishing bad behaviour, how about encouraging and rewarding the behaviour that we want?
Us humans are created with quite simple instructions. We love rewards and winning something, even if the reward isn’t proportional to our effort. Just think about how difficult it is to put away a computer game when we’re doing well! You get both small and big rewards during the game, and every single «ding» or digital «hooray» generates a feel-good feeling and a drive to go on for a bit longer. We can use this we design products and services, to make people do the right thing.
There are several examples of this. Perhaps the most known one is the bottle recycling machine, whereby collecting empty bottles, you can get a few cents back in cash or donate them to a good cause. The last option actually gives you a double reward – you did something right when you recycled the bottles, and you’ve also helped somebody who needs it.
...but don’t forget about the long term
Unfortunately, the good behaviour doesn’t last longer than the reward itself. When the cash reward for glass bottles was removed, the amount of disposed of bottles seems to have increased significantly. That’s why we need to think about the long term when we design solutions for behavioural change and make sure that the feeling of «being good» lasts for a long time.
Another trick is to have people be compared to their peers. In many exercises or work-out apps, the time that you run a specific stretch on gets compared to the best time. Most people try a little bit extra hard thanks to this. The same trick is used by energy suppliers to make us aware of our energy consumption compared to the average consumption.
Get people grossed out
We can also make use of some instincts most of us have, such as avoiding things that we feel are disgusting or repulsive. To remind people to wash their hands properly after a visit to the bathroom, we can put up stickers with images of viruses on the door handle – it triggers a »yuck-reaction» that makes us think twice.
To make us keep a distance to each other and not occupy all the seats at the airport, some have tried putting up pictures of cute teddies on the seats instead of simply blocking them with tape. Tired people tend to rip off the tape, but who has the heart to sit on a teddy bear?
A combination of methods is probably best
So, how can we end the parking of electric scooters in inappropriate places? We can use the reward-effect by giving bonus points when the scooter is parked correctly. The evaluation can be done by the person who rents the scooter after the «parker.»He or she can give a score based on how well it was parked. The bonus points could be used as a discount on the next ride, or perhaps included in a partnership with a cafe for a free treat? This could be combined with a punishment – if you throw the scooter away, parking it incorrectly, you lose points.
Drunk-driving is forbidden, but if people have to solve a riddle after 9pm in order to use the scooter, perhaps this could also have an add-on effect?
There are probably weak spots in my examples, and you would need to use several methods combined to crack the problem. But, the point is that by getting insight into what is required to have people make the right choices, we can design better solutions. We can then avoid irritation and a ban on products and services that, in reality, are healthy and good, and I can continue to glide elegantly through town on my way to the next meeting.
Do you have any examples or ideas for how we can change behaviours without using bans and punishments? If so, please share them with others, so that we can create an every-day life free from nuisances.
I wish you all a great rest of the Summer!
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