5 Ways Smart Phones Have Enabled Car-Free Living

Even just 2 or 3 years ago,  car-free living wouldn’t have been possible for us.

Transit travel presented extreme inefficiencies in the pre-iPhone era. Physical transit schedules got lost easily and were quickly out-of-date. We could only ascertain when we would arrive at a given destination through prior experience. If travelling by bike, what appeared to be the shortest biking distance between two points ended up having steep hills and no shoulder. How limiting and frustrating! No “serious” people, with “serious” jobs could afford to devote so much time to figuring out transportation this way.

Smart phones are car-free game-changers in 5 important ways:

  1. Our smart phone always knows where we are, and where our chariot is.
    That reassuring blue dot always lets us know where we are. In unfamiliar areas, we don’t have to pull out a map on the street to figure it out. Furthermore, the GPS systems in taxis, trains, and buses know where they are too, and relay that information to us, via the smart phone. Harry Potter fans can think of this technology as a kind of Marauder’s Map. Many iPhone apps exploit this technology, like the bay area’s BayTripper for public transportation and Cabulous for taxis*. Google has finally got on board and now we can know exactly what time the bus/train is coming on Google Maps. If we decide to stay for another drink or get held up at work, no big deal, we’ll be able to re-route instantly.
  2. Our smart phones access “routing engines”, which tell us how to best get from Point A to Point B.
    Through computer calculation, we are given the absolute most efficient route possible. When riding by bike, sites like Bikesy will route us though streets with bike lanes and few hills. These programs calculate what time we will arrive at our destination, so we know when we need to leave to arrive on time. When travelling by public transportation, the apps tell us where and when to transfer, if necessary. We can figure and reconfigure all of this from anywhere, on the fly, on our smart phone. We can plan to arrive at the station exactly when the train/bus arrives, no time wasted.
  3. We can multi-task with our smart phones on public transit. Transit riders are able to use their smart phones to be productive in ways that car drivers shouldn’t be. We can draft an email for work, pay our bills, track our investments, read the Economist, prepare a shopping list, or (let’s be honest) play Angry Birds. Australia is reporting that young people are riding public transportation in record numbers, with 18-25 year olds representing 35% of train users and 40% of bus users (this same demographic is only 17% of the population). The article attributes the rise in popularity to the ability to multi-task with computers and smart phones.  This ability to multi-task on a smart phone has given public transportation a huge advantage over a single-occupancy vehicle.
  4. Smart Phones Raise the Status of Public Transit.
    A recent study by Latitude Research and Next American Study found that access to real-time data raises the status of public transportation. The “serious” people with “serious” jobs, who very much value their time, can now know exactly when to catch the train. We can stay in our office and bill that extra 6 minutes if our train is late, instead of feeling like we’ve wasted time unnecessarily waiting. Once on transit, we can continue to work on our smart phone, losing no time to parking, driving, etc. White-collar workers are again being drawn back to public transportation not for economic reasons, but for efficiency. When “higher-status” individuals begin using transit, public perception of transit is raised, and thus ceases to be considered as a “second-class” form of transit (i.e. we don’t feel embarrassed when we say we’re taking the bus!)
  5. Smart Phones Access Shared Car Services
    For those instances where public transit isn’t the most convenient option, shared cars offer the perfect solution. The Zip Car app tells us exactly where the available cars are, and we can then use our smart phone to unlock the car door. The only draw back with Zip Car is that they can’t be used for one-way trips, but other companies, like car2go, are beginning to offer that capability.


Are there any other ways Smart Phones are enabling people to ditch their cars for public transit, biking, and walking? Please share in the comments below!

*full disclosure: one of us has worked on these apps

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2 Responses to 5 Ways Smart Phones Have Enabled Car-Free Living

  1. Trish says:

    Cool postings! Way to go! Would love for this to catch on in OK!

  2. Chris says:

    Definitely agree!

    Only one minor quibble with #3. At least here in Paris, it’s difficult to multi-task during rush hour. When you are just one of many sardines crammed into a metro car, it’s difficult to get both of your hands on your phone to comfortably multi-task. So sometimes I read. But even reading is difficult while standing for half an hour. So I often end up just listening to podcasts.

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