How Mobile Technology Is Changing the Way We Commute

According to two new studies, the way we use devices is leading some—especially millennials—to ditch commuting to work by car. One key benefit? They can work on the way in.

Want twentysomething job prospects to give your organization a chance? It might help if your office is within shouting distance of a mass transit stop.

The real story isn’t that they’re using public transit—rather, it’s why they’re using it that’s intriguing. A recent American Public Transportation Association study on the travel habits of millennials offers some fascinating insights into how the rise of the smartphone appears to have many of them leaving their cars in the garage. More details:

Current transit trends: According to APTA’s Millennials and Mobility report [PDF], one of the biggest advantages of taking public transportation that millennials cited is that they can work while in transit—something 40 percent of the study’s respondents said they do. While driving remains the preferred mode of transportation (with walking a close second), more than 40 percent of the respondents surveyed (living in cities with multiple forms of transit, such as Boston, Chicago, and Washington, DC) said they used buses or subway trains to get around at least a few times each week. The numbers were higher for those ages 22 to 27.

How mobile fits in: Another study on a similar topic, the WashPirg Foundation’s A New Way to Go, suggests that one reason we’re seeing improvements in public transit is the rise of apps that have helped increase mobility without cars—particularly apps that allow for ride-sharing, bike-sharing, and trip-planning and that provide real-time transit information. In Chicago, the foundation notes, bus ridership increased between 2006 and 2009 after the city made real-time bus information available. APTA’s study also points to this factor, saying that technology could lead to a further embrace of public transportation by easing transit’s headaches for riders. “Fully leveraging technology, through real-time transit applications that connect users with community amenities, through smartphone fare payment, and the provision of WiFi and 3G/4G will allow transit users to be more spontaneous, thus addressing the key competitive advantage of the car,” the APTA study states.

Expanding the lessons: The Atlantic Cities, a publication cofounded by urban studies expert Richard Florida, takes a wider view of the two studies’ findings, suggesting that there’s potential for a seismic cultural shift in how Americans get around from day to day—and even if that doesn’t happen, habits still could change due to the rise of technology. “But even as many millennials will continue to drive, all of this technology means both that they’ll be able to drive less and that the alternatives to driving will become more attractive,” The Atlantic Cities’ Emily Badger writes. She adds, “What we have yet to learn is what this picture will look like as millennials age into parenthood.”

Thinking points: For associations, the lessons here are many. Mobile technology has the potential to change habits, even well-embedded ones like driving. This should be a consideration when deciding on meeting locations and office placement. Beyond that, we should consider that, by using this technology, we’re slowly but surely rewiring the ways we approach our daily lives.

How has mobile changed the way you interact with the world? Let us know your take in the comments.

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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