By now, this article has made the rounds among transit advocates and techies, at least in the US.  I’m hoping to spread it to Europe now, but especially to readers of this blog who I think will be particularly enthused.mbta app A recent study conducted by Latitude Research and Next American City reveals that new technologies and improved access to information can encourage transit use.  They sampled 18 individuals aged 24 - 51 from Boston and San Francisco who are regular car drivers and asked them to go car-free for a week.  They were tracked by GPS, surveyed about their perceptions of mobility before and after the study, and engaged in group discussions using the web throughout the study.  Boston and San Francisco were chosen due to their recent commitment to open data solutions and technological initiatives.

The study is summarized by three main insights:

  • Information can equalize transit choices
    • Participants rated convenience, control, and flexibility as their highest values for mobility.
    • Location-aware mobile apps provide real-time information about the trade-offs between different routes and modes of travel, extending a feeling of convenience, control, and flexibility to transit.
  • Lose a car, gain a community
    • The majority of participants felt reconnected to their neighbors and their community by riding transit or adopting other non-automobile oriented transportation.
    • Mobile apps can enhance the off-line, real-world experience by connecting individuals to others while traveling.
  • Alternative transit is good for me and we
    • Participants gained insight into the environmental, health, and economic/financial benefits of car-free lifestyle.
    • Readily accessible information, largely available through the use of mobile apps, allows for empathy formation and an increased understanding of their own and others’ preferences and values.

This study serves to legitimize what many of us has believed for a long time.  It goes further to say there’s great value in deprivation, where individuals learn by doing and experiencing, rather than by being preached at by an advocacy crowd.  I hope this study gets expanded to a larger group, comparing the behaviors and experiences of those in tech-enabled cities (e.g. Boston and San Francisco) to areas who have not yet adapted these innovations.  I’d also like to hear thoughts about how this type of experiential learning can be extended beyond the world of research and into policies of programs of municipalities.  Bike to work and school week seem like promising opportunities.

-Terra Curtis

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