New Study Finds Technology Enabling Americans to Drive Less

Vehicle Sharing Services, Transit Apps and Wi-Fi, such as TransLoc and Tampa Bay Bike share, Contribute to National Driving Decline; Policy Needs to Catch Up

Florida PIRG Education Fund

Tampa, FL – In a first-of-its-kind study, Florida PIRG Education Fund compiled nation-wide evidence on transportation apps and vehicle sharing programs,like TransLoc, 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 Dalyn Houser at FLORIDA PIRG EDUCATION FUND, which released the report,  A New Way to Go.  “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 Florida people have reduced their driving miles by 11 percent per person since 2005.


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.

Findings from a new report released today by the American Public Transit Association (APTA) reinforce those from Florida PIRG. 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.

Nick Fiorello, a current student at Florida State University uses his local bus app every day.  “ I use an app called TransLoc.  The app is very useful because I can track where my specific bus is at any time.  When I’m getting ready to go to school, all I have to do is check my app to make sure the bus is close by.  I can also use the app to find which bus stop is closest to the destination I’m trying to get to.  Before I had the app I didn’t use the bus often because I never knew when my bus would pick me up, but now I hardly drive my car! Now I get to save a lot of gas money and I can be on my phone while going to school.”

Besides buses, Florida Statue University also provides a bike share program for its students known as the FSU reCycle Program.  This programs mission is “To encourage students to choose a more sustainable and healthy method of transportation.”  Students are given the option to rent out these bicycles for a semester or for the whole school year.  This comes in handy for students who need a way home from school when the buses stop running, or for students that want to simply exercise on their way to school.

In Tampa and St.Pete a new bike share will come online in the spring of 2014.  Andrew Blikken is the head of this new project, creating the new Tampa Bay Bike share.  Not only will people be able to rent out these bikes, but also the company will have its own mobile app for customers. Blikken’s purpose for creating this new type of bike share is to better the “Quality of life for everyone involved,” and by creating a “social bicycle app” younger generations will become more interested and excited about this bike share program.  Blikken is installing a GPS in all of his bicycles, giving his customers the ability to use his new mobile app to search for bicycles around the area that can be rented out.  This app also gives Blikken himself the ability to know where all of the bikes in his fleet are at any given moment. 

There are more benefits to using a bike share program apart from “the quantitative reasons such as burning calories, and saving gas.” Blikken explains “it is the qualitative reasons I am starting this bike share. For instance, when traveling around sitting in a box (car) we are not too engaged in our environment, we don’t notice new shops, don’t want to investigate, or battle traffic to check out the  store on the corner or other parts of our surroundings, but you are more likely to investigate on bike.”  Bike share programs can be an exciting way to travel around urban areas, as he learned from his inspiration seeing his first bike share in Copenhagen that allowed an entirely different level of connection with the city.

In some cases a car simply needs to be used for transportation.  Florida State University has teamed up with Zipcar, a car share company, which gives students the ability to rent out cars for a couple of hours to run errands around town. “It’s a very easy process, you just sign up online for a time you want the car and when it’s your time for the car you simply unlock it with a specific card they (Florida State University) give you,” explains Effie Ford, a student at Florida State University who has used the Zipcar numerous times.  “The keys are always in the car usually with a full tank of gas and the cars are super clean. It’s more convenient than having a personal car on campus because I am always guaranteed a parking spot.”  

“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 Houser. “The new tools make it easier to 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 should focus less on expanding highway capacity and more on public transit, biking, walking and other alternatives to personal cars,“ said Houser,

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:

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Florida PIRG Education Fund works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation.