Mobile Innovation

Smartphone Apps are Changing How We Get Around: Three Key Findings

Smartphones and their suite of “apps” have quickly evolved to become an extension of our everyday lives. While some may argue that not all smartphone use is necessarily good for us, many apps—like ones that put less energy-intensive transportation options at our fingertips—are encouraging users to make more sustainable choices, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing quality of life.


Multimodal aggregator smartphone apps–namely, apps that merge real-time and static data from various transportation types (e.g., rail, bus, bikesharing, ridesharing, and others) onto one digital platform–are making it easier for users to plan trips without personal cars. Despite the growing popularity of such apps, their impacts on user mode choice, as well as their implications for planning and policy development, have not been well documented. This lack of data which prompted UCCONNECT, the California Department of Transportation, and researchers at UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) to examine multimodal aggregators in a recent study.


To better understand how these apps are impacting how users travel, the researchers took a multi-pronged approach by interviewing experts, reviewing the most popular transportation apps available for download, and conducting an online survey of users of the former multimodal aggregator app, RideScout (now moovel). Here are three key findings from the study:

1. Data sharing between the public and private sectors is imperative when improving the utility of multimodal aggregators and our transportation networks. Further, protecting user privacy is critical, and there must be flexibility in data sharing agreements between entities that have different goals.

2. Users of multimodal aggregator app user public transportation more and drive less as a result of the app. Approximately 38 percent of survey respondents reported driving less frequently because of RideScout.

3. Public transit wait times tend to be shorter for app users. 50 percent of survey respondents said they wait less for public transportation, compared with using the app, improving the overall utility of public transit systems.

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Using private automobiles to navigate congested cities has become a less viable option, and apps that aggregate data and make public transportation options easier to use will become more commonplace. Further, as provider add new new features, like in-app payment options for various modes and advanced trip planning abilities, the smartphone will continue to cement itself as a necessary component to many peoples daily lives.


While multimodal aggregator apps encourage their users to drive less and use less energy-intensive modes, they also provide planners and policymakers with a better set of tools to understand travel behavior, allow a streamlined platform to share data, and enhance collaboration between public and private entities. These platforms can significantly benefit our transportation system by influencing user behavior and providing planners with better tools to help systems become more efficient.


To read the full report, follow this link and to explore more research in shared mobility, check out TSRC’s website here. This study is also featured in the newly released book: Disrupting Mobility, which is available for purchase.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.


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