We all know the benefits of increased public transportation usage: lower traffic congestion, lower pollution, and lower overall living costs. However, as Matthew Yglesias points out in a recent article at Vox, sometimes politicians choose really stupid public transportation projects. While his proposed solution of better lobbying against those projects will yield long term results, I think he overlooks some shorter-term and easier-to-implement ideas, such as using technology to increase usage.
Even technologies that are purely information in context can have a huge impact. As anyone who’s looked at the side of a bus stop to decipher routes in a new city knows, it basically looks like a spaghetti monster. Having tools like Google Maps on our smartphone with the “public transit” option are key to easily understanding how to get around. Couple that with the ability to set “time of arrival”, and I have everything I need to know.
Adding the power of social networks only makes my transit time shorter. Companies like Moovit are the Waze of public transit: combining traditional navigation software with real time “on the ground actuals” provided by their user base sharing their experiences. Big data is another area, where companies like Rome2Rio and Wanderu find options on how to get you anywhere, regardless of whether or not you have a car.
Other startups are focused on education and exposure, with Transit & Trails being one of my favorites. This company allows people to share tips on how to use public transit to easily get to nature trails. They told me how, for the same price as using a car, to leave San Francisco’s center, arrive at a Marin trailhead in about 15 minutes, hike all morning, enjoy a lunch in Sausalito, and then take a ferry around Alcatraz to get home. Startups like this put to serious question the absolute need for personal cars to easily enjoy nature.
Politicians will always look to make big splashes with “sexy” projects, and thus we’ll need lobbying efforts. But, it’s important to remember that implementing simple technology on top of existing infrastructure can be the easiest way to boost public transit usage.
If you’re interesting in learning more about the 400+ startups working on stuff like this, from telematics to infotainment to smart public transit, check out our Connected Transportation scan!
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