Transit Riders Love Their Technology – Until Someone's Looking Over Their Shoulder

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(photo by Gubatron/Flickr)

(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.”


One in Five Bay Area Bridges Deemed Structurally Deficient
Federal Funds Fall Short as Need Increases

Contact: Seth Goddard,, 415.272.7384 cell, 510.740.3150x310

A new report to be released Tuesday morning on the state of California’s bridges is eye opening, especially considering the destruction just witnessed in Japan: one in five Bay Area bridges is structurally deficient and this figure will continue to rise as an entire generation of bridges approaches their 50-year life expectancy.

Structurally deficient bridges are identified by the federal government as high priority for monitoring and repair, because of significant wear and tear or other defects to at least one part of the bridge.  These bridges will continue to deteriorate over time and may be closed or restricted due to safety concerns if the structurally deficiency is not addressed.

In recent years, California has spent all available federal funds for bridge repair, even putting additional flexible funds towards this purpose.  But the need far exceeds available funding.  Federal transportation policy continues to be heavily weighted towards building new roads rather than fixing existing bridges, roads, and public transportation systems.  Congress is currently reviewing these policies with the intention of passing a new federal transportation bill later this year.

Given the economic crisis and current Congressional budget debates, prioritizing funding for repairs and maintenance first makes good sense.  Deferring maintenance of bridges and highways can cost three times as much as preventative repairs[1].  Repair work on roads and bridges generates 16% more jobs than new bridge and road construction, too[2].

The report from Transportation For America, which includes a statewide review of bridge safety in California, is based on analysis of the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory Data.  While the report is embargoed until Tuesday, advanced copies of the report will be provided upon request.

WHAT: Release of Transportation For America’s report, “The Fix We’re In For: The State of California’s Bridges.”

WHEN: Report officially released Tuesday, March 22, 2011.  Statewide Telebriefing at 11:00 a.m.

WHERE: Telebriefing  - Tuesday March 22nd, 2011 at 11:00am

  • Call-in number: 424-203-8075, Code: 576981#
  • Speakers can be made available for additional questions after the call


  • Marnie Primmer, Executive Director, Mobility 21
  • Engineer, Caltrans, TBD
  • Hasan Ikhrata, Executive Director, Southern California Association of Governments
  • Joe Cruz, Director of Transportation Policy, California Alliance for Jobs
  • Jean Quan, Mayor, Oakland, (invited)

VISUAL: Iconic bridges in the Bay Area as a backdrop for relevant speakers (elected officials, agency staff, TransForm staff) who will comment on the findings.  Reporters may contact us beforehand for specific locations for planning purposes and to schedule times with speakers.

Key findings for the Bay Area include:

County Number of bridges Number of structurally deficient bridges Percentage of bridges that are structurally deficient Average annual daily traffic on structurally deficient bridges
San Francisco 116 40 34.5% 2,569,899
Alameda 601 130 21.6% 5,608,117
San Mateo 344 74 21.5% 3,064,075
Sonoma 601 121 20.1% 737,485
Santa Clara 939 182 19.4% 5,804,761
Contra Costa 560 105 18.8% 3,241,193
Marin 199 31 15.6% 1,117,587
Napa 150 23 15.3% 80,153

“It’s clear: our transportation infrastructure is in crisis,” says Stuart Cohen, TransForm’s executive director.  “The era of building new highways is over.  Federal transportation funding needs to focus on fixing what we already have and then expanding only in ways that reduce our dependence on oil, like better public transportation, biking, and walking options.”

The national average for deficient bridges is 11.5%, while the Bay Area’s average is 20%.

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[1]American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.  Bridging the Gap: Restoring and Rebuilding the Nation’s Bridges. July 2008.
[2]Smart Growth for America.  The Best Stimulus for The Money.

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