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New Study Finds Technology Enabling Americans to Drive Less

Vehicle Sharing Services, Transit Apps and Wi-Fi Contribute to National Driving Decline; Policy Needs to Catch Up
For Immediate Release

SEATTLE, WA – In a first-of-its-kind study, WashPIRG compiled nation-wide evidence on transportation apps and vehicle sharing programs, like OneBusAway and Car2Go, and found that these advanced new tools have made it easier for Americans to drive less. Real-time apps and on-board wi-fi for public transit, as well as carsharing, bikesharing and ridesharing have spread rapidly in recent years. The report examines new evidence on how these practices are changing travel behavior.

“Personal auto ownership used to be the clear ticket to mobility” said Chris Esh at WashPIRG Foundation, which released the report. “For Baby Boomers, driving your car represented freedom and spontaneity. But today–especially for younger people–owning a car increasingly represents big expenses and parking hassles. Technology and vehicle-sharing services have started to make it easier not to own a car or for households to own fewer. Public transit systems, especially with on-board wi-fi and real-time apps, can be the backbone of this new mobility.”

The report, “A New Way to Go: The Apps, Maps, and New Technologies that are Giving More Americans Freedom to Drive Less” sheds additional light on how  Americans have been driving less per-person for eight years in a row and total miles remain below 2005 levels (Federal highway data). In Washington people have reduced their driving miles by nearly 9 percent per person since 1999—the first state to reduce driving trends across the country.

Among the findings cited in the report:

Public transit enhancements—A majority of U.S. transit systems make scheduling publicly available for developers to produce smartphone apps to help riders navigate systems. Smartphone-based tools enable riders to find the best route and track the progress of trains and buses in real time. 30 percent of surveyed Seattle-area bus riders using smartphone app OneBusAway reported the service induced them to ride the bus more often.

Bikesharing – More than 30 cities now have programs where subscribers can access bikes by the minute or by subscription at kiosks located on city streets. Approximately 40 percent of bikeshare members report reducing their driving, according to a survey of members of four bikeshare services. A public-private partnership with Alta Bicycle has been approved and is currently raising funds for a 500-bike, 50 station bikeshare program in downtown Seattle. 

Carsharing– Roundtrip carsharing services, such as Zipcar as well as newer one-way services such as Car2Go enable subscribers to access cars located in their neighborhoods, providing the mobility benefits of access to a car without having to bear the burden of owning one. As of 2012, more than 800,000 Americans were members of carsharing services. Each carsharing vehicle replaces nine to 13 privately-owned vehicles. The average carsharing participant reduces his or her driving by 27 to 56 percent while increasing ridership on transit and biking. 

Ridesharing and taxi-like services—New peer-to-peer carsharing networks enable individuals to rent out their own unused vehicles to people looking for a car. Drivers with open seats in their cars can pair with other individuals who need a ride. Companies such as Lyft allow ordinary drivers to provide web-based taxi-like services during their spare time.

Young Americans have consistently been the first to adopt and test these new technologies and practices. As of September 2012, young adults were six times more likely to have a smartphone than their grandparents’ generation, and twice as likely as Americans 50 to 64 years of age. 

Increasing Demand for Transportation Options—Seattle was pleased to welcome the introduction of carsharing service Car2Go, operated by auto-manufacturer Daimler.  18,000 members signed up in the first 90 days—equivalent to Seattle’s entire Capitol Hill neighborhood. Sound Transit ridership in Western Washington is up nearly 10 percent from last year. 

Findings from a separate report released today by the American Public Transit Association (APTA) reinforce those from WashPIRG. APTA’s study, called “Millennials & Mobility” revealed that 70 percent of adults under 35 use multiple alternatives instead of the car several times or more per week. Millennials view public transit as the superior mode for digital multitasking, and a majority view transit-based wi-fi and mobile broadband as well as real-time information about bus and train locations as important.

 “In the past, people often felt little choice but to depend on personal cars. Once you’ve already paid for a car and insurance, then it’s harder to consider other choices,” said Esh. “The new tools make it easier not to own a car or own fewer cars. New apps make it easy to catch a bus and ride unfamiliar routes. Bikeshare or rideshare can be the perfect complement when public transit doesn’t reach nearby your destination, when weather changes, or unexpected errands arise.”

The report provides policy makers with a number of recommendations such as to install more wi-fi on public transit and to integrate bike and car sharing into traffic management plans and near transit stations. Highway expansion projects should be reconsidered and canceled if no longer justified.

“These technological tools and practices are still in their infancy but spreading fast. Government leaders should focus less on expanding highways and invest in smart public transit, biking, walking and other alternatives to personal cars," said Chris Esh.

Download “A New Way to Go: The Apps, Maps, and New Technologies that are Giving More Americans Freedom to Drive Less”

See other recent reports on state-by-state declines in driving, the Millennial generation’s leading role in this trend, and the policy implications at: http://washpirg.org/topics/transportation 

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 WashPIRG Education Fund works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation. www.washpirgfoundation.org

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