An interesting article in the Perth newspaper “The West Australian” highlights a potential culture shift that I had seen mentioned in a number of previous articles. A culture shift among young people away from cars and towards technology like laptops, iPads, Smartphones and so forth – technology that fits more easily with public transport use than driving everywhere.
Here’s a brief part of the article:
Generation Ys now represent more than one-third of all local train and bus commuters, with numbers expected to reflect worldwide trends and continue to soar.
New 2011 figures released by the Public Transport Authority show that commuters aged between 18 and 25 now make up 35 per cent of all train users and 40 per cent of all bus users – up from 30 and 38 per cent on last year.
The increase is being partly attributed to new communication technologies and the desire by young people to “stay connected”.
“Previous generations found freedom and flexibility through the car,” Curtin University’s Professor Peter Newman said. “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.”
It’s always difficult to gauge the importance of things like this when it comes to understanding the revival of public transport over the past 20 years – which has been immense in Perth. However, I do think there’s some truth in new technologies making catching PT a more pleasant experience. You can be productive on the train with a laptop, you can relax in your own world with an iPod, you can stay in contact with your friends via your cellphone. None of this was particularly possible a mere 10 years ago. I certainly remember the first time I took a lengthy bus-trip listening to an iPod: it made the trip a whole heap more pleasant.
A useful question to consider is how we take advantage of these changing cultural trends. For so long public transport has been seen as the transport option of last choice, effectively a social welfare service for those too young, too old and too poor to drive. Perhaps we need to rethink ways in which to make PT the most attractive transport options, capitalising on its inherent advantage when it comes to new communication technologies. Perth is pretty onto this:
The PTA has recognised that more and more commuters are using communication technologies while travelling and have created a variety of social network tools to provide easy access to timetables and the latest service information.
There are also plans to fit trains with bluetooth wireless technology during the construction of the Perth City Link project to allow messages to be conveyed to commuters quickly.
One wonders how easy it would be to put free wifi on all the trains in Auckland – and perhaps all the buses in the longer term. While sure many people are switching to smartphones, I generally take the opportunity to connect to a wifi hotspot where I can so I’m able to save on my data usage. I’m also hopeful that PT in Auckland will become more engaged with new communication technologies. The MAXX website is still pretty much impossible to use on my Android smartphone.
I think it’s critical that we start showing public transport as the cutting edge, forward-looking way to travel – where you don’t have to spend your time concentrating on not crashing into the car in front of you. Instead, you can be productive, properly relaxed or connected with others while you travel. The combination of technology and PT can potentially give you much of your commuting time back to you.