New Study: Car Ownership Not Essential to Everyday Commute
Participants in a Boston-based study concluded that cars were not essential to their everday commute. Photo by Leandro Orella

Participants in a Boston-based study concluded that cars were not essential to their everday commute. Photo by Leandro Orella

A new study, “Tech for Transit: Designing a Future System,” concluded that four-fifths of research participants felt car ownership was not essential to their everyday commute. The study asked 18 car drivers in Boston and San Francisco to forgo the use of their cars for one week and, instead, rely on public transit, walking, bicycling and sharing rides. The research was conducted by the Boston-based research consultancy group Latitude and Next American City, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting socially and environmentally sustainable economic growth.

The study’s main goal was to answer three crucial questions in an effort to improve public transit systems:

  1. How can new technologies improve not only transit but also our larger experience of cities?
  2. How can information access encourage people to make more sustainable transit choices?
  3. Can tech help transit make us feel more connected to each other—and what lessons can businesses in other industries apply?

The study found that autonomy was more important for commuters than the status or comfort associated with car ownership. “More than two-thirds of participants cited convenience, control, and flexibility—not comfort or status, as the chief benefits of car ownership,” the report says. Especially in the presence of ride-sharing services, study participants agreed that car ownership was not essential to their lifestyle.

The study also cites the idea of improving perceptions of alternative transit as a means of encouraging individuals to choose sustainable transit options, especially when it comes to real-time, geographically aware and mobile-accessible information sharing.

The participants cited three main benefits of switching away from automobile commuting: improving the environment, lowering their budget for travel, and improving their health.

For some of the participants, one of the most rewarding aspects of a car-free week was rediscovering the community. After the study period, participants felt more integrated into their communities and felt that discovering new transportation routes exposed them to new experiences, like local events, public art projects, shops and local businesses. Mark V., a study participant from San Francisco, concluded, “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.”

To learn more about Latitude, click here or download the summary of the study.

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  • AR

    @Seph

    If it’s “hard to consider the realities of 6 billion people and conclude it’s no longer feasible” then how have you managed to do so since reading this article?

    Great Hera, Congress needs you! Go, for the good of the US!

  • http://thecityfix.com/members/rhysthom/ Rhys Thom

    One of the things I love about taking the bus and metro is that I can do things I wouldn’t be able to do while driving. During my commute to work this morning I caught up on all of my emails and read the New York Times, all from my phone on the bus.

  • nevermindtheend

    @Seph

    I am completely baffled by your argument for why cars are better than transit for most people.
    -Peace and quiet is much easier to find when you can sit down on the bus, put some headphones on and let your mind wander than when you have to deal with driving in traffic.
    -I don’t understand why people taking their kids to school need privacy to do so. I *really* don’t understand why you think the disabled and the elderly require the privacy of a car, rather than a reliable means of transportation that allows them to be independent (transit!).
    -Suggesting that people need to drive so that they can eat breakfast on the way to their destination is irresponsible. Likewise, saying people need to make sales cars (and thus need to drive private vehicles) is irresponsible. Drivers should drive, not engage in other activities.

    “And now we see a future without automobiles but a lot of mass transits? Why would people want to break a sweat riding a bike, interact with other noisy passengers, or be inconvenienced with public transit when they’re studying for a dissertation, doing a study for a global project, or have four kids who need some quality time with mom or dad during the ride to school?”

    Yes, why would people want to get exercise, interact with their neighbors, or have the opportunity to work on important projects during their commute? Why would they want to spend quality time with their children, in an environment in which they can safely pay attention to them rather than the road?

  • http://lewyn.tripod.com/blog Michael Lewyn

    Since Boston and San Francisco are hardly among our nation’s most car-dependent cities, I don’t realize what this study is supposed to prove.

  • Seph Bay

    You wrote, “two-thirds of participants cited convenience, control, and flexibility.” Studies like these forget to consider the fact that during car trips some people need peace and quiet (academics, students, CEOs, and other thinkers and decision-makers), privacy (e.g. parents or guardians taking their kids to school while eating breakfast in the car, the disabled, senior citizens), or even sales people who need to do sales calls or networking.

    We had, for example, millions of people taking bicycle rides in China for decades. Did that help them modernize as a country?

    And now we see a future without automobiles but a lot of mass transits? Why would people want to break a sweat riding a bike, interact with other noisy passengers, or be inconvenienced with public transit when they’re studying for a dissertation, doing a study for a global project, or have four kids who need some quality time with mom or dad during the ride to school?

    It’s easy to do a study on 18 people and present it as viable, but it’s hard to consider the realities of 6 billion people and conclude it’s no longer feasible.

  • http://garyb.posterous.com Gary J Boulanger

    Well written and well worth a read. We have a family of four, all of whom use bicycles daily. Three drivers, one car, and it seems to be working. It’s also part of our daily fabric to choose biking, walking and public transport. The Bay Area makes it easy, but it still takes discipline and preparation (especially when it’s raining cats and dogs like it is today!), but I enjoy maintaining our fleet of bikes, resting in the knowledge that we often get to where we need to go quickly, and often times faster by bike.

  • http://latd.com Kim Gaskins

    Itir,

    Thanks so much for an excellent overview of the study’s findings. We’re hoping our participants’ experiences might inspire some people (who have the option) to try out new ways of getting around and to explore their local communities more. Of course, we’re also hoping that cities and businesses continue to create (and iterate on!) genuinely, intensely useful tools for making this possible and easy for people.

    -Kim at Latitude (kgaskins[at]latd[dot]com)