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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Study Finds Public Transportation can Replicate Car Benefits via Accessible Mobile Information

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Does the idea of navigating a transit system intimidate you? A new transit study from Next American City Magazine and Latitude Research suggests that new, real-time technology (i.e. apps, social media, etc.) allowing riders to make decisions in real-time, makes transit sexier and equal to the automobile experience.

The study which featured 18 car commuters voluntarily going car-free for a week, found that "while users value the freedom and control a car provides, mobile information solutions could replicate this sense of autonomy without needing to own a car—primarily by helping users to make informed, in-the-moment decisions about what’s available near them and the best ways to get around".

The "freedom" of the open road
Basically, commuters want freedom. Traditionally, cars and other motor vehicles have been associated with freedom, as showcased by the 1969 film, Easy Rider, featuring Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda cruising across the United States on motorcycles in search of true America.

Participants in the study cited "convenience, flexibility, and control" as the chief advantages of the car. However, this study finds that transit can "replicate these 'experience-based' benefits" from users who travel without a car. Transit becomes more accessible and flexible when riders are provided the tools to plan their trips on-the-go.

The majority of participants found that in addition to the freedom that transit provides, money savings and health benefits could lead them to reduce their car use and even give up their cars completely.

Below are some highlights from the study:

Technology levels the playing field between public transportation and the automobile. "Comfort," "status," etc. all were not named by participants as benefits of driving. Being in "control" however, was noted as one of the biggest benefits of driving, which the study notes that new technology provides transit users. Applications now provide riders with maps, real-time and scheduled arrival times, and customer service and interaction via social media.

The automobile takes away your sense of community. Twice as many participants than expected, felt more "integrated into their communities" as a result of giving up their car.
“This week I’ve really enjoyed walking along Market Street and discovering what a fantastic city I live in,” explains Mark V., a study participant from San Francisco. “I always knew it was a great place to live, but being forced to rely on public transportation only reinforced this."
Car free benefits go beyond the user. Top three motivators amongst the participants were "better for the environment," "money-saving" and "healthier". Car-free lifestyles benefit everyone. Public Transportation can save an individual up to $10,000 annually in car savings, along with commuter tax benefits provided by employers. Public Transportation saves 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (which affect the Earth's temperature) and 4.2 billion gallons of gas in the United States annually. Taking the bus also helps to meet the recommended 30 minutes of moderate daily exercise.

It's an interesting look at how the mediums used to receive information, entertainment, and social interaction continue to evolve. Patrons can now watch TV, order food and find out the next scheduled arrival of their bus, all on their smartphones. Technology continues to change the way we live.

Do you agree with the findings? Does the control, convenience and flexibility provided by modern technology place public transportation on equal playing ground with the automobile? Would you be willing to try a car-free diet?

If you're interested in a further look at the study, it's a three part blog series which can be found on Next American City's blog, here.

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