From Commuting to Community

Urban traffic and the difficulties of commuting are challenging issues for cities globally, especially as the already rapid pace of urbanization continues to accelerate. Delays in the U.S. alone cost an average of 34 hours a year per commuter. Moreover, wasted fuel, carbon emissions and opportunity costs mean that in the U.S. traffic congestion costs over $100 billion annually. Globally, these costs multiply: workers and students from Stockholm to Seoul cite daily commutes as a key cause of stress and missed time at work.

Governments and private companies are investigating how to address the challenges of urban mobility, emphasizing improvements in infrastructure. But one year ago, the New Cities Foundation set out to understand the potential of making commuters part of the solution. In partnership with Ericsson and the University of Berkeley, the Foundation set up a Task Force on Connected Commuting to study the impact of connecting travelers who take the same daily commute route via smartphone apps that allow them to share relevant, useful information with each other. Two pioneering commuting applications were used for the study: Waze (for car commuters) and Roadify (for public transport users). We piloted the study in San Jose, CA, which city ranks 22nd among large American cities in number of person-hours delayed (42 million annually), and 25th in congestion cost ($842 million).

Is the connected commute “better” than the unconnected commute? From a city perspective, is it more resource efficient?

The Task Force wanted to know: can a new level of networking between commuters enhance the overall commuting experience? Is the connected commute “better” than the unconnected commute? From a city perspective, is it more resource efficient?

The findings of this year-long study present an opportunity for transport agencies, local governments and app developers to identify alternative ways to effectively improve the commute experience. From a policy standpoint, the Task Force study’s bottom line is this: while innovative long-term solutions such as road space rationing (Brazil), license plate quotas (China), and congestion pricing (Britain) should continue to be implemented, in the short-term, encouraging and utilizing crowd-sourced information sharing among commuters—especially if done in a safe manner—can be an efficient, cost-effective way to build a community of commuters who themselves provide solutions to the woes of commuting.

Released last week, the study revealed that information-sharing among commuters has benefits for both individual commuters and organizations—be they public or private—working on transportation and mobility:

  • The Task Force found that commuters’ ability to receive or share real-time information with other travelers can effectively reduce commute-related stress and provide a sense of community.
  • Car commuters who are connected to other commuters via social commuting apps tend to be happier with their commutes than unconnected car commuters because of the timely information they receive—allowing them to adjust their travel—and also because of the information they’re able to share with others, giving them a sense of satisfaction at helping fellow commuters.
  • Crowd-sourced data from commuter apps is highly relevant to the topic of commuting (unlike more general social networking platforms). For transport agencies and mobile app developers this means that real-time commuter information-sharing can be a useful tool for geolocalizing frustration, that is, pinpointing where commuters are experiencing problems and at what time of day. This can, in turn, provide feedback on routes that need to be better managed by authorities. Similarly, areas associated with positive commuter sentiment could provide app developers with real-time data that acts as the basis for recommended travel routes.

This article was originally posted here.