Researchers say people are choosing public transit so they can stare at their smartphones

September 3, 2015

You don’t need a scientific study to tell you that public transit riders spend most of their commute glued to their phones. It’s a ubiquitous site on any train, subway or bus: hordes of travelers silently hunched over glowing screens.

But a new study from DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development found that the promise of constant connectivity may actually be encouraging more people to take public transit. The researchers looked at technology use on commuter trains in the Chicago area and found a correlation between the increased use of tech on trains over the last five years and a significant boost in ridership.

In 2014, for example, after Chicago’s Metra began installing WiFi, the number of annual passenger trips saw a 1.3 percent increase, even as fares increased by 25 percent. The study used data collected from 4,700 passengers on 53 commuter trains in the Chicago area in early 2015. Overall, researchers found that 56.2 percent of Chicago rail riders used tech while traveling, a three-fold increase from 2010.

The researchers didn’t actually ask riders whether technology was the draw to the train, but they concluded that digital amenities are a major selling point for commuters who chose to take the train rather than driving. They suggest other transit agencies looking to increase ridership add WiFi and power outlets to stations and trains, as well as airport-style waiting areas where people can easily sit down and plug-in.

Fusion writer Kristen V. Brown has the full story by clicking here.

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