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Forget public transit: In London, an app that rewards you for walking and cycling

Forget public transit: In London, an app that rewards you for walking and cycling

Posting in Cities

Coming to a city near you, too. Get off the bus or subway, even if only one stop early. Use your own two feet. Collect points! Get free underpants!

An app called re:route can tell you how to get from Tower Bridge to the London Eye to Parliament and Big Ben without touching a subway strap.

New billboards at London subway and bus stops might make you think twice before climbing aboard and clogging up the transit system. They'll read "re:route," and they're aimed at getting you to do just that: To get to your destination through some healthier or more environmentally friendly means, like walking or cycling.

It's part of a scheme from American company Recyclebank, which has developed a mobile phone app that shows you alternative means of propelling yourself from, say, Picadilly Circus to the Olympic stadium. Not only does it instruct you, but it also rewards you: Use the system, and you collect points redeemable at various retailers and health clubs.

It also shows you how many calories you supposedly burned, and how much CO2 emissions you saved by not using a bus, train, or car.

"It motivates people and rewards them for walking and cycling in London," Recyclebank director of marketing Rob Crumbie told me by phone as the company was preparing to launch the product, available as of today.

The free app will give a you a number of options - everything from scrapping your journey by "tube" (that's what Londoners call their underground train) in favor of walking, to how to walk the last portion of a mile by disembarking a stop or two early. And it guides you on where to pick up and drop off a rental bike suitable to your trip - (like many cities around the world, London has a cycle sharing scheme that lets you grab a bike for a short duration).

Many people don't realize that it can be faster to walk than to take the tube on many trips, Crumbie said. Reroute lets them know that - or reminds those who already realize it.

GPS alerts the system that you've completed the journey and have earned points. (Yes, there are ways to cheat it - you could take a cab, for instance). At the moment, re:route issues points for simply using the system. In the future, it will give priority points to those who maximize the walking/cycling/healthy opportunties, Crumbie said.

Transport for London, the city government group that overseas buses and subways, is putting up the ads on bus shelters and at subway stations to help ease the burden on the the transportation system, and hopes that people use it during the summer Olympics that start July 27.

"We're particularly excited about the potential for this app to motivate people to cycle and walk during the London 2012 Games, when London's roads and public transport network will be at their busiest," TfL director planning Ben Plowden said in a press release.

Recyclebank hopes to offer the app in other areas. "You may well see re:route popping up in other cities," Crumbie said.

The app marks an extension of the New York City-based company's business model that rewards people for recycling.

Re:route's rewards points partners include retailer Marks & Spencer (lots of people buy their underwear there), organic supermarket Planet Organic, luxury spa resort Champneys and others.

Photos: London cropped from The Emirr/Collage via Wikimedia Commons. Re:route logo from Recyclebank.

Recycling some SmartPlanet stories about Recylebank:

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure