We’ve talked before about all the benefits of going car-free or car-lite. It’s a topic we love here at goDCgo, and we take advantage of every opportunity to spread the word that there is another way to live and travel. Recently, we stumbled upon another study (we love studies!) that puts a new and intriguing spin on this topic, one that focuses not only on the rewards of using different modes of transportation—namely health, financial savings, local economic growth, reduced traffic congestion and environmental improvements—but also on how technology can encourage people to switch up their travel routines and change perceptions about the necessity of car ownership. To summarize, the study found that technology, specifically apps, made all the difference in the world to 18 car owners, volunteers from San Francisco and Boston, who agreed to go car-free for one week. Conducted by Latitude, a company which researches new markets for technological developments, in collaboration with Next American City, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting sustainable American cities, the study sought to answer the following questions:
- 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 travel choices?
- Can technology help transit make us feel more connected to each other—and what lessons can businesses in other industries apply?
Going into the study, most participants cited “convenience, control and flexibility” as their primary motivation for owning a car. By the end of the study, however, more than four-fifths had concluded that owning a car was no longer a necessity for them, “particularly if they could have access to car-sharing or ride-sharing services.” In addition to learning what other travel modes were available to them, two-thirds of the participants reported being pleasantly surprised by how much more connected they felt with their communities and the new experiences that those modes afforded them. Mark from San Francisco said, “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.” That “richness” has implications for the local economy, as many participants discovered local events, shops and business of which they had previously been unaware. To answer the questions originally posed by the researchers, participants found that the role of portable technology made their experiences far easier than if they had to rely solely on traditional means of transit communications—posters, brochures and sidewalk bus route signs, for example. Participants averaged five different modes of transportation throughout the week, pointing to the importance of having multiple choices, which we are fortunate to have here in the District. As for technology, the report concluded, “Apps can make spontaneous experimentation with transit options fun and can reward small sustainable choices”—which, in turn, will encourage gradual behavior change.
Finally, the car-free volunteers offered suggestions for the types of apps they’d like to see that would be the most useful to them in traveling around via public transit or other modes. Many of their suggestions are already available or in the final stages of development, and here in the DC area, we are lucky to have several useful apps already in place. Here are some that we found:
SpotCycle: This app tells you where to find the nearest Capital Bikeshare station and provides up-to-the-minute information on how many bikes and open spots are available.
DC Metro Transit: This free app offers real-time information about Metrorail arrival times. It also includes a Metrorail system map and up-to-date information about service disruptions and delays, Metrobus and Circulator stops and arrival times, as well as a feature allowing you to use your phone's GPS to find the nearest station or stop.
Find a Metro DC: Offers GPS enabled real-time metro arrival times, which are updated every 30 seconds for the closest five stations, and Google map directions to those stations; a trip planner you can use even while underground with estimated trip times and fare information; a full metro map (tap any station for arrival times); real-time delays affecting Metrorail; Metrobus arrival times; and points of interest to find the closest metro stops to attractions, including monuments, museums and more in DC.
Next Bus DC: Using GPS tracking, not schedules, NextBus DC provides accurate, real-time bus arrival predictions, along with route and stop location maps.
RailBandit: Train, light rail, and subway schedules throughout the U.S.
DC Rider: By the Washington Post, this app offers train times and Metro alerts, station info and entrances on street maps, the latest area transit news from the Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock and Express, and a trip planner—plus, instant updates from other riders via Twitter!
Be on the lookout for a new app from goDCgo—we’ll keep you posted! Know of any other good apps? Would you be willing to go car-free for a week? Please let us know!