Transit Riders Love Their Technology – Until Someone's Looking Over Their Shoulder
Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 10:17 AM
(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) More and more people are using iPads, laptops or smart phones when they travel on public transportation – but that number might drop off as trains, planes and buses become more crowded. New findings by the researchers at DePaul University show that use of technology on public transit grew at record rates last year. But public transit remains, well, public – and that means not everyone’s comfortable digging into personal emails or commenting liberally on Facebook.
The researchers measured how people's behavior changed as their surroundings grew more crowded, basing their findings on observations of more than 16,000 passengers on 215 bus, rail, and plane rides. "On the largest buses, seating about 80, technology use falls by more than a third when more than 40 people are on board," said Joe Schweiterman, one of the researchers on the study. The effects were similar on airplanes. In particular, people were much less likely to use devices with large screens, or to make cell phone calls, than they were when they felt their surroundings were private. "We hear endless complaints that the coach cabins of airplanes have become awful places to use technology," said Schweiterman.
Technology use remains most prevalent on the Acela trains in the Northeast corridor, which, at 42 inches each, has by far the roomiest seats. On those trains and on intercity buses, it was common for more than half of passengers to be glued to their devices. But when conditions get crowded, tech use goes down significantly. So as more people take, say, long-distance bus rides, will their own hangups keep them offline?
“Crowding is the enemy of those techno travelers who like to use multiple devices at once, such as working on laptops and placing cell phone calls," said Schweiterman. "In crowds, they abandoned this type of behavior.”