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:
- How can new technologies improve not only transit but also our larger experience of cities?
- How can information access encourage people to make more sustainable transit choices?
- 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.”