The Future of Commuting: Moving Towards Alternative Modes of Transit

by Freya Sawbridge

Earlier this year the world came to a standstill and the wheels of transport stopped turning. Planes were grounded, cars remained in garages and some train routes were temporarily suspended. As the world awoke again, transport looked very different from before. Uber drivers shielded themselves from passengers, mandatory social distancing was implemented on public transit and bike sales soared. Confronted with mass change and altered work hours, people began to think differently about commuting. In turn, the pandemic provided a shift towards a potential new future and created a fresh platform for new urban mobility. 

To move towards a better future of commuting, one habit that needs to change is the dominance of private car ownership. Having a personal car is expensive to own, run and park. In the best case scenario, commuting by car is generally cheaper (since it is usually more direct) but as soon as you add in realistic delays such as upkeep, speeding fines and accidents then riding public transit becomes significantly cheaper. It is also one of the most unsafe modes of transport. Each year car crashes cause injury to between 20 and 50 million people and approximately 1.35 million deaths worldwide.

On average, Americans spend about 35 minutes per day commuting to and from work. This equates to 152 hours per year. If you are commuting by car you can’t get on with much else because you’re focused on driving or stuck in traffic. If you use public transit those commuting hours can be put into a more productive activity such as starting that fishing book you’ve always wanted to or beginning your dream food blog. A study conducted by Ericsson ConsumerLab showed commuters were most satisfied when they could engage in three or more activities on the go such as taking phone calls, reading and online shopping.

Evidence also shows a strong correlation between illness and driving a car. Lawrence Frank, a transportation and public health expert conducted a study that revealed every extra hour spent in a car each day increases your likelihood of developing obesity. Using public transit is healthier because patrons will get more exercise as they walk between stations or by using alternative modes of transit such as cycling. Frank stresses “The most vulnerable society is the one that becomes the most sedentary and the most car dependent.” 

If we move away from car ownership what would commuting look like? Well, much of it is smartphone-based and slick apps like Float Mobility are helping drive the change by providing customized options of how best to get from A to B. Having comprehensive and consistent public transit and other modes of transport such as scooters is a key aspect of bustling cities. It brings people together and allows everyone to access city hotspots, regardless of income. Apps like Float also appeal to people’s different preferences because when customers plug in a destination it ranks the options of how to get there (the fastest, greenest, cheapest or safest). Patrons can then select the option they want. Whether you are environmentally-conscious, in a rush with not much time to spare or on a tight budget apps like Float cater to your needs. 

Some people may be resistant towards public transit because they may feel it takes away their autonomy and that they have to be more courteous of other people. But we live in an increasingly globalized world and with the threat of climate change, it is important to overcome our proclivities. Besides, it is easy to find a public transit journey which suits you best such as not traveling during rush hour or using solo modes of transport such as the increasingly popular ebike. David Levinson, transport engineer, believes using public transit is essential for a workable city as it is “where people negotiate their differences.”

In order to cement the shift towards better commuting, governments need to stop pumping money into roads for cars and instead devise better public transit systems and more bike and scooter lanes. A recent survey conducted in Portland revealed that 34 percent of people used a scooter instead of driving their own car for their most recent journey. This proves people are eager for change and funding and infrastructure are bound to follow.

It can be hard to shift deeply ingrained habits but the quieting of the world provides a good opportunity to change systems and implement alternatives to the status quo. We should all use it to our advantage and start utilizing accessible smartphone apps so we can move away from expensive and onerous car-ownership towards a better future of commuting.