New Study Finds Technology Enabling Americans to Drive Less
Vehicle Sharing Services, Transit Apps and Wi-Fi Contribute to National Driving Decline; Policy Needs to Catch Up
ConnPIRG Education Fund
Hartford, CT – In a first-of-its-kind study, ConnPIRG compiled nation-wide evidence on transportation apps and vehicle sharing programs, like HopStop and Zipcar, and found that these advanced new tools have made it easier for Americans to drive less. Real-time apps and on-board wi-fi for public transit, 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 Sean Doyle at ConnPIRG Education Fund, which released the report. “For Baby Boomers, driving your 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 started to make it easier not to own a car or for households to own fewer. Public transit systems, especially with on-board wi-fi and real-time apps, can be the backbone of this new mobility.”
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 Connecticut people have reduced their driving miles by 4.8 percent per person since 2007 when driving peaked.
“While nationally these trends are happening, and driving has fallen in Connecticut, our state is lagging behind other with the availability of tech that will help make transit easier to use. This lack of technology is an indication of the deeper issue – not enough public transportation in our state. While there are some third party apps that make using existing bus systems easier (like HopStop), there is no GPS modality for buses that can be found in others cities around the country.”
Among the findings cited in the report:
- • Public transit enhancements—A majority of U.S. transit systems make scheduling publicly available for developers to produce smartphone apps to help riders navigate systems. Smartphone-based tools enable riders to find the best route and track the progress of trains and buses in real time.
- • Bikesharing – More than 30 cities 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.
In Connecticut, there are a few small bike-share programs around the state – in Mystic, New London, Simsbury, and a pilot program at Yale University. While these represent the rise of our sharing economy and an interest in other modes of transportation, these bike shares are largely not integrated into a larger, multimodal transportation system. Connecticut needs to seriously work on increasing access to driving alternatives, especially as new technologies are enabling more and more people to utilize public transit.
To that end, Lyle Wray, the Executive Director of the Capital Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), notes that his organization has a strong interest in creating a regional bike-share. “A regional bike-share program offers great potential for increasing the transit zone around train and rapid transit stations and for urban circulation,” said Wray. “Users would be able to drop off a bike at one station and reliably pick one up at their destination thus speeding up service and freeing up space. With the launch of rapid transit and increased train service coming to the Hartford – New Haven line, the time is right to put a blueprint in place to take advantage of these opportunities.”
Findings from a separate report released today by the American Public Transit Association (APTA) reinforce those from ConnPIRG. 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.
According to APTA’s president and CEO, Michael Melaniphy, “Now is the time to be pro-active in creating this multi-modal transportation system to address the Millennial generation’s demands and lifestyles. This generation wants the pragmatic benefits of having multiple ways to get around.”
“In the past, people often felt little choice but to depend on personal cars. Once you’ve already paid for a car and insurance, then it’s harder to consider other choices,” said Doyle. “The spread of new tools makes it easier not to own a car or own fewer cars. New apps make it easy to catch a bus and ride unfamiliar routes. Bikeshare or rideshare can be the perfect complement when public transit doesn’t reach nearby your destination, when weather changes, or unexpected errands arise.”
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. Highway expansion projects should be reconsidered and canceled if no longer justified.
“These technological tools and practices are still in their infancy but spreading fast. Government leaders, particularly in Connecticut, should focus less on expanding highway capacity and more on public transit, biking, walking and other alternatives to personal cars,“ said Doyle. “The time is ripe for Connecticut to aggressively pursue bringing our transportation system into the modern age.”
Download “A New Way to Go: The Apps, Maps, and New Technologies that are Giving More Americans Freedom to Drive Less.”
See other recent reports on state-by-state declines in driving, the Millennial generation’s leading role in this trend, and the policy implications at: http://connpirg.org/topics/transportation