Results from a recent study conducted by Latitude & Next American City show somewhat surprisingly that many city dwellers would consider giving up their cars if they had access to mobile applications, transit data, and carsharing infrastructure.
In the study (conducted in late 2010), 18 participants from San Francisco and Boston were asked to relinquish their cars for one week, the vast majority of whom had ranked cars as their most necessary form of transportation. During the week they used public transit, walked, biked, or shared rides, and completed surveys about their attitudes and experiences before, during and after the experience. A detail worth including—3 in 4 participants owned smartphones.
After the car-free week, four fifths of the participants indicated that car ownership was not essential to their daily lives, and over half felt more connected to their community, as well as more aware about what was going on around them. Mark V, from San Francisco, wrote “during my car-free week, I realized that if you live in a city and drive back and forth from work every day, you are missing out on the richness of your community.”
Thankfully there are already a great number of mobile applications designed to make car-free (or car-light!) life a bit easier. Let’s do a brief survey of the extant market for transportation-related apps.
At the head of the pack you have Zipcar, with a free iPhone app that lets you find a car, reserve a car, and even unlock your car. Zipcar is definitely leading the way in the app design and usability department, all while lessening the need for car ownership.
But what if you just need a one-way ride and are feeling flexible? The go520 iPhone application (with a Windows Phone 7 app coming soon) lets you find a ride in real-time by locating drivers headed in your same direction, assigning you a pin number for safety purposes, and has a feature that enables automatic cost-sharing of the ride.
Maybe you’re a tried and true transit rider. Stuck on the side of the road and wondering where your bus is? One Bus Away has apps for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7, and features real-time arrival information for a number of local transit agencies. You’ll get arrival info for every bus stop, and easy access to information across a variety of platforms.
Or maybe you’re a cyclist? Ride The City is a global mobile application that lets users map a bike route in 26 major cities (Disclaimer: Seattle is one of them, Bellevue is not, unfortunately). Even better than the Google map bike route application, it will help you find the safest, fastest and most convenient route (and a way around those pesky hills).
Decided to take public transportation to work, but an emergency means you have to leave unexpectedly? Taxi Magic will get you there. Book from your mobile phone or the web and track the arrival of your taxi, charge the ride to your credit card, or expense the trip with an e-receipt.
Moving and want to take walkability into account? WalkScore helps you determine the “walk score” of any location and even comes with a map of nearby amenities within walking directions, as well as reviews and ratings.
So where is the technology lacking? One participant in the Latitude study indicated they’d like to see an application that “allows you to compare options for getting to different places, and maybe adds information like carbon emissions, calories burned and so on, for each option.” Another suggestion was for a “somewhat experimental” application that would reward small sustainable choices like riding a bike with points, which could then be exchanged in the real world. There are also much more innovative ideas on ways to package data from transportation agencies to offer a side-by-side comparison of travel options.
One of the most essential takeaways from the study is that when it comes to your transportation choices, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. As one participant pointed out, “you can plan a few days a week to go car free, and you get the benefits like time to exercise and read while reducing your environmental impact.” In short, mobile apps make it easy and even fun to be “good,” and help to create the feeling of transportation independence and choice among users. Choices which of course can still include a car; you’ll just have a lot more information when it comes time to weigh your options.
Be sure to download a copy of Choose Your Way Bellevue’s Mobile App Brochure, which outlines the features and pricing of the various apps discussed above (and more!) for all types of transportation in the Bellevue-area. Copies are also available at the Commuter Connection Store (Bellevue Transit Center, 10850 NE 6th Street, Downtown Bellevue). >> Download