New Study Finds Technology Enabling Americans to Drive Less

Madison Metro’s Bus Radar, Community Car, and B-Cycle Examples of Tools Sparking National Decrease in Driving, Policy Needs to Catch Up

WISPIRG Foundation

Madison, WI – In a first-of-its-kind study, WISPIRG compiled nation-wide evidence on transportation apps and vehicle sharing programs, like Madison Metro’s Bus Radar, Community Car and B-Cycle, 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 Bruce Speight at WISPIRG Foundation, 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 Wisconsin, the average person now drives about as much in a year as he or she did in 1997, and total vehicle travel has fallen by 3 percent since 2004. 

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 Community Car 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 WISPIRG. APTA’s study, called “Millennials & Mobility” revealed that 70 percent of adults under 35 use multiple alternatives instead of the car several times or more per week. Millennials view public transit as the superior mode for digital multitasking, and a majority view transit-based wi-fi and mobile broadband as well as real-time information about bus and train locations as important.

“New electronic technology has been extremely helpful in making it easier and less intimidating for new riders to take the bus,” said Mick Rusch with Metro Transit. “Using their mobile device, customers can now plan their trips and track their buses while on the road or waiting at their stop.  In addition, mobile technology and mass transit can help address issues of distracted driving. While riding Metro, passengers can use their electronic technology to check their email, coordinate their schedules, do their banking, and even catch up on current events while someone else drives them to work.”  Metro Transit apps can be downloaded at

“1300 people are sharing 13 cars at, celebrating its 10 year anniversary, in the Madison area,” said Sonya Newenhouse, Founder and President of Community Car. 

“Madison B-cycle has had over 150,000 rides since opening in June of 2011,” said Claire Hurley, City Manager of Madison B-Cycle. “We’re pleased to say that just under 30% of the trips taken in 2012 and 2013 have replaced a single-occupancy car trip. According to a user survey in 2012, 78% of over 2,300 annual B-cycle members have access to their own personal bike, and 65% of respondents have a Metro bus pass.”

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

See other recent reports on declines in driving, the Millennial generation’s leading role in this trend, and the policy implications at: 

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