Automobile traffic produces air pollution, chokes cities, and wastes time. Mass transit is one of the best options for change. Many of us would ride mass transit if it was readily available. But I think many more would be inclined to ride if the metro offered internet access.
Extra Wi-Fi time instead of the stasis of looking at traffic lights is appealing. A few large urban transport systems outside the US now offer Wi-Fi, but it is not at all common. That is changing. Hopefully, transit agencies will quickly find that the simple addition increases ridership and will follow suit.
While studies cannot predict absolutely what the addition of W-Fi would bring in terms of ridership, there is preliminary research on the topic. Depaul University recently released one, “Who Rides Curbside Buses? A Passengers Survey of Discount Curbside Bus Services in Six Eastern and Midwestern Cities,” and a graduate student at the Northwestern University Transportation Center, Charlotte Frei, published a piece “Private Time On Public Transit: Dimensions Of Information And Telecommunication Use Of Chicago Transit Riders.” The articles, after delving into this issue, find that it is likely that Wi-Fi on transit will help increase ridership. It makes sense — finishing some work on the way home in transit will allow less work in the office or once you are home; Googling to finalize some plans; or just scrolling through recent news from your favorite website allows you to make use of your commute time.
TheCityFix reports that in the last year large urban areas have started offering free Wi-Fi services on their transit lines. Tokyo, Japan; Moscow, Russia; Paris, France; and Bangalore, Mumbai, and Gurgaon in India have well developed metro systems that offer free Wi-Fi. Cities such as Porto Alegre and São Paulo in Brazil; Beijing, China; London, United Kingdom; and Mumbai, India have buses that are going to try offering Wi-Fi.
The journal Transportation has a report that estimates, “Using the estimated parameters from the model, the expected number of trips on CC trains for 2012 is 2.7 % higher than it would have been without free Wi-Fi. In particular, new riders expect to make 8.6 % more trips than if Wi-Fi were not available, while the expected number of trips made by lower-frequency continuing riders (those using CC less than once a week in 2011) and higher-frequency continuing riders (those using CC once a week or more in 2011) increase by 6.2 and 1.0 %, respectively.”
While new on transit, time will tell whether increased ridership will be worth the cost to providers. But it is not only about ticket revenues in cities. Large urban areas are struggling with air pollution (fumes from cars), and mass transit takes cars off the road. It is as simple as this. Along with air quality, quality of life is improved. Sitting in traffic does nothing but promote stagnation of health in a personal and wider sense. It will be hard to quantify those benefits.
Technology also improves the use of mass transit in other ways. The smartphone is more than great photos and daily texts. It helps connect bicyclists. It enables ridesharing. It is also useful as a good aid for mass transit, including finding routes home and checking transit times. Timetables and predictability of transport services improve with real-time crowdsourcing apps.
Train trips are my favorite. However, in the US, train timetables shift quite a bit. Planning even a simple, spontaneous trip is an easier experience with apps connected to transport systems. So, as part of the future of mass transit, free Wi-Fi service falls into place as a natural evolution.
In the US, we lag behind in mass transit except in a few areas. Many of us wish and long for more availability. California has improved in spite of lack of perfect infrastructure. From Planetsave.com: “To be exact, almost 23% of household trips were taken by walking, biking, and public transportation during the recent study, as compared to ‘just’ 11% back in 2000.”
If you do own a phone and choose to ride mass transit as much as possible, make sure you catch Planetsave’s article, “This App Could Revolutionize Public Transit.” Half the trouble with mass transit is knowing where and when a transit vehicle can pick you up. This app helps a lot with that.
Image Credit: train Wi-Fi user via Shutterstock