Timely Health Messages Boost Stair Use in Boston Subway by 4.3 Percent

From January 2002 to October 2003, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a new automated technology for counting stair users.

They used this technology to test whether "just-in-time" health messages can motivate commuters to increase their routine physical activity by using stairs rather than escalators.

Key Results

Under the project, the researchers:

  • Developed a new computer vision algorithm that detects moving objects in public spaces and then calculates the percentages of people using either stairs or escalators.

  • Obtained approval from the Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority to test the new technology and conduct just-in-time messaging experiments in three Boston commuter rail stations.

Key Findings

  • The new people-counting technology accurately calculated the percentage of stair users versus escalator users, adapted well to the difficult environment of the transit stations and was cost-effective.

  • When researchers used their new technology to project a motivational message ("Your heart needs exercise, here's your chance") in the transit stations, commuters increased their stair use by 4.3 percent, a finding consistent with prior studies.