Flickr/Christiano Betta

According to a new study, free Wi-Fi makes travelers more likely to opt not to drive

Forget about better bus routes or plusher subway cars. The best way to get people to ride mass transit might simply be to offer free wireless.

According to a just-released DePaul University study, riders are more likely than ever to spend their commute plugged in, whether they're traveling by plane, train or bus. All told, more than 90 percent of passengers use a digital device at some point during their trip. And more often than not, it's a device with a screen, rather than a cell phone or iPod. 

That in itself isn't so surprising: the proliferation of handheld technology means it's almost impossible to disconnect. More interesting is this little nugget, from a blog post by researcher Joseph Schwieterman:

A survey we administered to riders waiting at curbside boarding locations showed that almost half consider Wi-Fi important when they choose a travel mode, and about 55% plan to send texts or emails on their trip. The ability to freely use portable devices, while undoubtedly less important than the low fares, helps explain why so many affluent travelers now hop on curbside buses, even when travel times are longer. With more than 400 daily departures, this sector has grown by more than 25% annually over the past several years.

More and more, mass transportation is changing its model to attract connected customers. Megabus and BoltBus both provide free Wi-Fi (along with power outlets). Amtrak offers Internet on all Acela trips. Even Greyhound is getting in on the action, albeit slower than others. According to Open WiFi Spots, several regional and urban transit systems also invite riders to log on. You can check your email on Seattle ferries and Austin buses, among others. 

Schwieterman cautions against reading too much into the data. "It would be a stretch to argue that portable technology will appreciably diminish the share of travel by car anytime soon," he writes. Still, Wi-Fi might be a (relatively) inexpensive way for transit systems to get people out of their cars and onto trains, subways and buses.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Cristiano Betta.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    How Poor Americans Get Exploited by Their Landlords

    American landlords derive more profit from renters in low-income neighborhoods, researchers Matthew Desmond and Nathan Wilmers find.

  2. A photo of the interior of a WeWork co-working office.
    Design

    WeWork Wants to Build the ‘Future of Cities.’ What Does That Mean?

    The co-working startup is hatching plans to deploy data to reimagine urban problems. In the past, it has profiled neighborhoods based on class indicators.

  3. An illustration of a private train.
    Transportation

    Let’s Buy a Train

    If you dream of roaming the U.S. in a your own personal train car, you still can. But Amtrak cuts have railcar owners wondering if their days are numbered.

  4. Solar panels on the tiled roof of a two-story house.
    Environment

    Solar Batteries Are Winning Over German Homeowners

    Solar home storage has morphed from a niche product in Germany to one with enormous mainstream potential.

  5. Students cheer at Kalamazoo Central High School graduation.
    Life

    A Guide to Successful Place-Based Economic Policies

    A new Upjohn Institute report documents four key pillars that can guide successful place-based economic development and local job growth.