Trainspotting deathstopping in Mumbai

With almost one death a day, Wadala Railway Station in Mumbai is one of India’s most dangerous. Railway officials have struggled for years to reduce the number of people hit by trains as they tried to cross the tracks. Jaimit Doshi, who tipped the Nudge blog off to this example, says railways used heavy fines without much success — possibly because the people who walked along the tracks couldn’t afford them in the first place. Typically, the only warning walkers have had was shouting from residents in nearby slums that a train was headed their way.

Enter a choice architecture firm called Final Mile that pays its bills through retail consumer behavior consulting. After spending some time hanging out around the tracks, the firm came up with a sequence of three nudges, each designed to address a piece of the decision making process. Final Mile painted the track sleepers yellow to help people better judge the speed of the trains. It installed whistle boards at bends, telling train operators to whistle twice. (The boards had to be made of material not valuable enough to steal.) And finally, at the point on the tracks where the most people crossed, they posted a giant photo (shown below) of a man being run over by a train. Frightening.

“It’s intended to elicit an appropriate emotional memory,” Krishnamurthy says. “We look to faces to figure out situations, so his face is central. We repeated the image, because it catches the eye. And it has to be life-size, not larger than life, because it shouldn’t intrude into the conscious. It should work at an unconscious level.”

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