Following up on my recent post on how my smartphone didn’t revolutionize my transit commute, I came across this Wired article. A new study suggests transit apps on smartphones can get commuters to ditch their cars for a bus or train:
An interesting study of commuters in Boston and San Francisco found people are more willing to ride the bus or train when they have tools to manage their commutes effectively. The study asked 18 people to surrender their cars for one week. The participants found that any autonomy lost by handing over their keys could be regained through apps providing real-time information about transit schedules, delays and shops and services along the routes.
The study’s authors make a smart point: it’s about control. Although we can’t choose when the bus will arrive, with up to the minute information offered by smartphone apps, we still feel “in control” of our commuting destiny.
There’s certainly no harm in providing useful apps to those who can use them. But am I convinced that smartphones are the solution to getting everyone on transit? Hardly.
It may help a few—or maybe even a sizable number of—commuters out of their cars and onto the bus, but it’ll be limited to those well-off enough to afford a pricey phone bill every month. It’s more about making transit work than making apps that work. The study’s authors sum it up well:
Although loads of data is no substitute for frequent, and punctual, service, smartphone apps will be essential for attracting new riders, serving casual riders and in neighborhoods or regions with few transit options.
While it may not be a solution for everyone, having a device that can tell you how to get where you’re going through multiple options from where you are sure will make it easier. It already knows where you are!Say, for example, someone had a cross-mode transportation app. This app would see where you are, you tell it where you’re going and it can send a query to multiple modes. It will return results based on cost and time.Results could include the nearest Zipcar location, rent-a-bike kiosk, transit options, and even new services that query people already on the road in their vehicles.(They tell their device where they’re going, it knows where they are, and can let you know someone along the way wants a ride.)Even just having a phone that not only told me what bus to catch, but when it’s arriving (and it can tell you quite accurately now) and not just when it’s scheduled would make a big difference in my utilizing transit.