the car vs. personal technology (quote of the week)

"Previous generations found freedom and flexibility through the car.  But Generation Ys find their freedom and flexibility by staying connected to their friends, family and workplaces through the various information devices – like their laptops, or iphones.

"They can stay connected on a bus or a train. They can bring the office with them. They can bring their study with them. They can bring their friends with them. They can't if they're driving."

— Peter Newman, Curtin University, Perth, Australia, quoted in the West Australian

Joshua Arbury of Auckland Transport Blog ruminates further.

13 Responses to the car vs. personal technology (quote of the week)

  1. Joshua June 25, 2011 at 3:54 am #

    There are some interesting US stats that back this up too. The portion of US teens with drivers licenses peaked in 1983 and has declined by about 20% since then. Despite the US teenage population being bigger than ever, back in 1978 12 million teens had their licenses, less than 10 million do so today.
    More here:

  2. Alan Davies June 25, 2011 at 7:48 am #

    The whole Gen Y is driving less phenomenon is undoubtedly true, but that story quoting Peter Newman you linked to makes an interesting claim.
    The newspaper quotes the Public Transport Authority of WA as claiming 18-25 year olds now make up 35% of all train users and 40% of all bus users.
    However at the last Census, 18-24 year olds made up just 12.5% of the Australian population. I doubt Western Australians are that different. Maybe tertiary students make up a really, really large proportion of public transport users in WA, or workers make up a really, really small proportion.

  3. Jarrett at June 25, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    @Alan Davies.  You'd have to control these numbers based on historic age breakdowns of transit use.  Young adults have always been present above their numbers, because even at the pinnacle of the car-worshipping era, many, especially students, couldn't afford cars yet.  Don't have time to do that myself, but it's easy to do.

  4. Alan Davies June 25, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    @Jarrett: Yes, young adults have always tended to use public transport more, but it’s the degree of over-representation in the claim I find remarkable, especially across an entire transit system (actually to clarify, 18-24 yrs are 12.5% of Australians aged 18 or over). I wouldn’t be surprised if the claim relates to just a part of the network. Maybe one of your readers from Perth can clarify?

  5. M1EK June 26, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    This only works in areas where public transportation is competitive ENOUGH with the car that the extra time it takes is not worse than being disconnected.
    That isn’t the case in most of the US; and only reserved-guideway rail can really make it so.
    (My own anectdote: I hate my drive to work in the suburbs; it takes about 15 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon – and I regard it as an utter waste of time. The bus trip is a 1-transfer-with-very-long-walk 105-minute affair. I am definitely the only person in Austin who owns a car who ever even gave that a try).
    My employer would never have good rail service out here, but if we stopped screwing around with bad rail and assuming buses can always make up the gap, better employers might locate downtown (where the good rail would terminate). Then, I might actually have a shot…

  6. Al Dimond June 26, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    @M1EK: Would employers locate downtown if there were good rail systems there? It’s a fair question, as lots of cities all over the world with good downtown transit systems have been sprouting “edge cities” in car-dependent suburban office parks for decades.
    I read Joel Garreau’s book on edge cities, and he claims that in a study of companies that moved their corporate headquarters, it appeared that there was one constant influence: companies always moved their headquarters closer to the CEO’s house. But I think cheap rent is the real driver, and good transportation downtown doesn’t change the equation there. Oil appears to still be cheap enough that few skilled workers make job decisions based on their commute mode, so there’s only a minor advantage to renting office space in a location well-served by transit.

  7. Al Dimond June 26, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    Ha, I’m not sure whether I’m Gen Y or not — I was born in ’84, and I’ve heard some definitions that include me and some that don’t. I got Internet access as an adolescent and Facebook when I was in college. I’m not in tune with that generation, anyway — I quit Facebook (because I don’t trust it) and don’t have a phone with Internet access. I take the bus a lot but I read books, made out of dead trees, mostly checked out from the library. I also write songs (with an ink pen on more dead trees) and look out the window a lot.
    But, at the same time, people of all generations certainly can and do bring their friends (and colleagues) with them while they’re driving. I see this all the time while I’m out running and biking, even in Seattle, where it’s illegal. It’s sort of scary sometimes. Gen Y considers itself to be full of excellent multitaskers, and I know well that I’m not one myself, but I sort of think a lot of people don’t self-evaluate that skill very well…

  8. M1EK June 28, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    Al, I’ve read the same study – and that’s been true for decades – but whatever change is happening NOW is only happening in cities with good rail transit (not, never, cities with just bus transit).

  9. Brent Palmer July 1, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    @M1EK, the Swiss town of Schaffhausen (pop. 34,000) has a bus-based system with high ridership. And there are probably more examples.

  10. Brent Palmer July 2, 2011 at 1:27 am #

    ^^ To elaborate on that, the buses there run every 10-20 minutes, from 6 am to midnight every day, on most routes.

  11. M1EK July 5, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    @Brent, see further upstream – talking about US cities here. If the US had Swiss-size operating costs for cars, it’d be a completely different story.

  12. Alon Levy July 5, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Serious question about Schaffhausen: do people use the buses for in-city trips, or mainly as feeders for the S-Bahn lines connecting the city to Winterthur and Zurich?

  13. Brent Palmer July 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    @M1EK: I have no idea what proportion of bus trips in Schaffhausen are S-Bahn-related, but the buses in Schaffhausen do have to be seen as part of a greater network. And yes, running a car costs a lot more in Europe than in the States, creating a disincentive to drive. The idealist in me says “See? Things can be done differently to what we’re used to,” but let’s face it, the issue of how people get around is more complex and multi-faceted than I’d like to think.