New Study Finds Technology Enabling People to Drive Less

Media Contacts
Jason Donofrio

Phoenix Bikeshare and local app “Find My Train” examples of tools sparking driving decrease

Arizona PIRG Education Fund

In a first-of-its-kind study, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund compiled evidence on transportation apps and vehicle sharing programs and found that these advanced new tools have made it easier for Arizonans to drive less. Real-time apps, as well as carsharing, bikesharing and ridesharing have spread rapidly in recent years. The report examines new evidence on how these practices are changing travel behavior.

“Personal auto ownership used to be the clear ticket to mobility,” said Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, which released the report. “For Baby Boomers, driving a car represented freedom and spontaneity. But today – especially for younger people – owning a car increasingly represents big expenses and parking hassles. Technology and vehicle-sharing services have made it easier to get around without a car.”

The report, A New Way to Go: The Apps, Maps, and New Technologies that are Giving More Americans Freedom to Drive Less, sheds additional light on how Americans have been driving less per-person for eight years in a row and total miles remain below 2005 levels (Federal highway data). In Arizona people have reduced their driving miles by 9.3% percent per person since 2006.

Among the findings cited in the report:

  • Public transit enhancements—Smartphone-based tools enable riders to find the best route and track the progress of trains and buses in real time. A majority of U.S. transit systems make scheduling publicly available for developers to produce smartphone apps to help riders navigate systems.
  • Bikesharing – In December, Phoenix will join the more than 30 U.S. cities that now have programs where subscribers can access bikes by the minute or by subscription at kiosks located on city streets. Approximately 40 percent of bikeshare members report reducing their driving, according to a survey of members of four bikeshare services.
  • Carsharing– Roundtrip carsharing services, such as Zipcar, as well as newer one-way services such as car2go enable subscribers to access cars located in their neighborhoods, providing the mobility benefits of access to a car without having to bear the burden of owning one. As of 2012, more than 800,000 Americans were members of carsharing services. Each carsharing vehicle replaces nine to 13 privately-owned vehicles. The average carsharing participant reduces his or her driving by 27 to 56 percent while increasing ridership on transit and biking.
  • Ridesharing and taxi-like services—New peer-to-peer carsharing networks enable individuals to rent out their own unused vehicles to people looking for a car. Drivers with open seats in their cars can pair with other individuals who need a ride. Companies such as Lyft allow ordinary drivers to provide web-based taxi-like services during their spare time.
  • Young Americans have consistently been the first to adopt and test these new technologies and practices. As of September 2012, young adults were six times more likely to have a smartphone than their grandparents’ generation, and twice as likely as Americans 50 to 64 years of age.

Findings from a separate report released today by the American Public Transit Association (APTA) reinforce those from the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. APTA’s study of Millennials revealed that 70 percent use multiple alternatives instead of the car several times or more per week. Millennials also view public transit as the superior mode for digital multitasking. A majority of Millennials view transit-based wi-fi and mobile broadband as well as real-time information about bus and train locations as important.

The app “Find My Train” allows transit riders to find out when their next Valley Metro light rail train is scheduled to arrive with one click. “Instantly knowing when I can catch the train makes it much more convenient to take transit” says graphic designer Adam Mann, who created the app. “The ‘Find My Train’ app aims to help improve the riding experience by cutting the length of time riders spend waiting for the light rail”. 

“In the past, people often felt little choice but to depend on personal cars,” said Bryan Bazley, a Phoenix resident who has a car-light lifestyle. “The new technology tools make it easier not to own a car or own fewer cars.”

The report provides policy makers with a number of recommendations such as to install more wi-fi on public transit and to integrate bike and car sharing into traffic management plans and near transit stations.

“These technological tools and practices are still in their infancy but spreading fast. Government leaders should focus on expanding public transit, biking, walking and other alternatives to personal cars,” said Unrein.

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