Monday, September 23, 2013

Get paid, to track your driving! - ShuttleChallenge.ca Review

ShuttleChallenge.ca

Track Your Driving and Get Paid For It!

So, my wife discovered ShuttleChallenge.ca and signed us up for it. If you want to read officially how it works, click here, the short form is:
  1. You sign up on their website with your name, address, etc.
  2. They mail you a wireless datalogger that you plug into your car
  3. You drive around as you normally would for 2 weeks, during this time they log how much you drove and how efficiently you drove. This establishes a baseline.
  4. You take an online "training course" that describes techniques for more efficient driving. The course is web video mixed with some multiple choice questions.
  5. You drive around for another 2 weeks. If you drive 10% less distance, and burn 10% less gas than you previously did, you qualify to receive an additional $25 payment
  6. You mail back your datalogger in a prepaid envelope, and wait for the $25 or $50 to come in.

Ok, but what about...privacy? Where does the data go?

There are several news articles on the ShuttleChallenge website, including one from the Toronto Star, and Metro News. I was very disappointed with all of these articles, since they didn't answer any obvious background, and privacy questions that immediately popped into my head. Thankfully Mike Driedger, the Program Manager for Shuttle was nice enough to answer the following questions:

Q: Currently, how large is the program? How many participants are there during each session?
MD: This round of the program had over 500 participants from across the GTHA. Your particular cohort (July 29 start) had over 40 drivers
Q: Your privacy policy only discusses the use of personal information that identifies the user, it provides no mention of what is done with the mileage data. Is that data kept purely at ShuttleChallenge / Summerhill? Or is it released to other researchers? The Star article about you details that another purpose behind this is to gather data on driving patterns, etc.
MD: We have a partnership with the transportation branch of the Civil Engineering Department at U of T. They are responsible for analyzing the data (both from the loggers and surveys) and providing aggregate analysis. Our funding partners (TAF and the OCE) will have access to the aggregate data from our final reports to them. All of the data can help to influence a better understand of influences on driving behaviour and what drivers are willing to do to change their behaviour
Q: On your website, when I login to my account, I can only see fuel usage and distance driven. Is there any other data that you are storing from the device? In particular, are you logging:

top speed
any speed information
GPS information (to determine where the car was driven)
GPS information (that could be used to determine speed)
vehicle acceleration, as in how quickly or slowly does the driver accelerate
MD:  Overall, we're only looking at fuel and distance for the purpose of the program. The detailed data does give us GPS coordinates and the time of trips. See below for answers to each metric you asked about

top speed - no
any speed information - no
GPS information (to determine where the car was driven) - yes
GPS information (that could be used to determine speed) - no
vehicle acceleration, as in how quickly or slowly does the driver accelerate - no
Q: Have there been any accidents with drivers in the program, where the insurance company or authorities have requested access to data that you've stored? Do you have a policy for this eventuality?
MD: This hasn't come up at all and I'm not sure how useful the data would be. For us to hand over a data logger and its data we'd need to receive a formal request and/or warrant from the authorities. Overall this would need to be evaluated on a case by case basis if it ever came up. 
Q: You mention there is GPS data but then say it cannot be used to calculate speed, how is this possible? If you have timestamped GPS data, then you can calculate speed.
MD: The data from each trip is consolidated into a one line trip report. For your data logger, we receive a trip report at the end of your trip that summarizes the complete KM travelled, fuel consumed, length of the trip and gives a GPS stamp for where the trip ended. We could technically work with the logger providers to get more detailed data, but for the purpose of the program a trip summary is fine. Since we only have a final GPS stamp, we can't calculate speed.

So, Should I Do This?

So, based on the website, and response from the Program Manager:
  1. You will get $25
  2. They are only recording the distance you drove, and how much gas you used, so remove your tinfoil hat
  3. It's only over a 4-5 week period anyways, so even if you don't believe them (and why would they lie), there's no real serious privacy risk anyways.
  4. You may actually get $50
  5. University transportation planning folks are getting some data out of this, who knows, they might be able to make things run better with it.
So now, enough background and let's get into how it worked out for me!

Installing the Datalogger

The datalogger I received, was a "Mobile Devices Telematic embedded system, model: OBD", as shown below:



Plugging in the device was easy. It simply pushed into the OBDII (electronic diagnostic port) on my car. If your car is newer than 1996, then it should have an OBDII port. The picture below shows the datalogger on the right side of the picture.


Since I live in an apartment, with my car parked in underground parking the datalogger I received uses a cellular datanetwork to transmit data back to ShuttleChallenge. Their website mentions if where you park your car at home is within range of your home wifi network, then you may use a different logger. With the particular logger I had, all I did was plug it into the OBDII port, and then leave it for the required 5 week period, there was no troubleshooting, configuration or anything else required. The FAQ section on ShuttleChallenge describes some other dataloggers that either have to link to a smartphone via bluetooth, or connect to your home wifi. Since mine didn't have any of this, I can't comment on how hassle free the other devices are.

Emails, Charts and Graphs!

During the course of program I received a total of about 7 emails from ShuttleChallenge, so don't worry about them spamming you or overflowing your already overflowing email. To see your progress in the program you login to their secure website, below is a screenshot of my page towards the end of the program:


Each day, the datalogger is tracking your total distance traveled (km being kilometers for our American readers) and how much gas you have consumed. To motivate the frugal minded, the site spells out how much money you've spent (using an estimated gas price) and to motivate the environmental how many carbons you've emitted.

Overall, the site is quite well setup, with the numbers across indicating what stage of the program you are in, and the graph indicating how much you drove during your "baseline" week and during your "challenge week". On the right hand side of the page, there is a forum type setup where you can communicate with all other participants and with ShuttleChallenge staff. The forum mostly consisted of a few people having technical difficulties, and people complaining about construction causing them to have to take detours!

As you can see, I drive quite a bit, and while I have been tracking my mileage offline, it was surprising to see how much driving I actually do. Below are my final results:


While I didn't grab a screen capture of it, there are charts that compare your driving and fuel usage with everyone else doing the challenge at the same time. This is very useful to see how efficient you are compared to your peers, and how much distance you do compared to your peers. The charts below were sent to me via email:



As you can see, going from 1005 km over a 2 week period (which is a lot) to 1269 km over the challenge 2 week period, I did not qualify for the additional $25. It looks from the tables that on average our cohort also failed to meet the 10% KM reduction, although it's possible a few people like me skewed the average. The chart also shows some good news for my granny driving technique:

Average person -  9.6 and 9.55 L per 100 km
FindingOptimal - 7.8 and 7.68 L per 100 km

On this driving style, I would recommend this Mr. Money Mustache article, which has great advice like:
Overall, you should still use your brakes, but pretend they are hooked up to a speaker on your dashboard which blares out my voice saying “MEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHH!!!” at you for the duration of your brake application – each and every time you touch that pedal. Pleasant, isn’t it?
Being able to see the obscene amount of driving I'm doing, was invaluable and this experience has helped encourage my wife and I to make some changes. You may also be surprised how trips can add up.

Once the program was finished, I called Purolator (a courier) to arrange pickup of the pre-paid envelope that Shuttle sent me in the mail when they first sent the datalogger. As of now, I'm waiting for my $25, but am sure it will arrive soon.

Accuracy?

One note about accuracy, perhaps part of the trouble was my car being in underground parking where the datalogger couldn't get a signal out, or perhaps it was something else, but there was at least one day where it recorded no driving and there was some. My own Google Form based mileage tracking data is as follows:


What's important is my fuel efficiency numbers, L / 100 km, are better than what the datalogger tracked. My numbers are calculated based on distance travelled, and how much gas it took to fill the tank. There may be some variation when the pump shuts off, this could cause my driving to look more efficient one period, and less the next if the pump stops when the tank isn't quite full the first week period and "overfills" during the second period. This would explain some period to period variance, but the numbers are consistent and better than the ShuttleChallenge numbers. What's more likely is the datalogger missed one roughly 100km day of travel during that period, resulting in approximately 10% poorly mileage.

Final Thoughts - I Recommend ShuttleChallenge

I would recommend doing the ShuttleChallenge for the following reasons:
  1. $25
  2. Anytime you can get fairly accurate data about your expenses, without having to do any real work and without buying anything, it's good.
  3. The driving efficiency training was good, especially if you're the sort that puts no thought into efficient driving styles
  4. This could be the kick in the pants you need to realize you're spending too much money/time driving and you're not doing an efficient job at it.
  5. Maybe you'll get $50

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