A mobile application launched in dozens of U.S. and Canadian cities on Monday measures the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions of inner-city travel, its creators said, letting concerned commuters map their so-called carbon footprints.
Mapping app Cowlines can suggest the most efficient route as well which uses the least fuel, combining modes of transport such as bicycling and walking, within cities, its Vancouver, Canada-based creators said.
Some two-thirds of the world's population is expected to settle in urban areas by 2050, according to the United Nations.
The trend presents an environmental challenge, given that the world's cities account for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions.
Not only will the app measure a trip's emissions and suggest alternatives, it will provide the data to cities and urban planners working on systems from subway lines to bike-sharing programs, said Jonathan Whitworth, chief strategy officer at Greenlines Technology, which created the app.
"As you would imagine here in Canada, especially Western Canada, most people are driven by the environmental side of it," Whitworth told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The app aims to encourage users in 62 U.S. and Canadian cities to use cleaner modes of transportation, from mass transit to walking or biking, he said.
In the United States, mass transit accounts for less than 2 percent of passenger miles traveled, according to Daniel Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.
"People are starved for good information and data for good travel choices," said Sperling.
The app's suggested route is a cowline - city planner parlance for the fastest route, said Whitworth. In pastoral settings, a cowline is the most direct path cattle use to reach grazing grounds.
The app shows users after a trip how many kilograms of carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions they are responsible for, Whitworth said.
While other apps such as Changers CO2 Fit track users' carbon footprints, Cowlines claims its methodology, certified by the International Organization for Standardization, is most accurate, he said.
Whitworth said the company also plans to sell the data it collects.