Professor Joseph SchwietermanJoseph Schwieterman — professor, School of Public Service, and director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development — has been studying transportation for more than 20 years. His research has been cited by USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg News, and other local and national media.

America’s transportation scene is in the middle of a metamorphosis. In fact, our research from the Chaddick Institute points to five trends that are changing how Americans move from place to place.

1. Mobile devices are altering travelers’ behavior.
Over the past three years, teams of graduate students have observed thousands of travelers in more than 300 departures (of buses, trains, and airplanes throughout the country) to collect information on the use of laptops, smart phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. One significant finding: the use of tablets (such as iPads) and e-readers (such as Kindle and Nook) rose more than 50 percent in 2011 across all modes of transportation. Also, the popular surge in digital technology is giving a boost to tech-friendly modes, specifically rail and bus.

Read more about this trend in the popular press.

2. The Intercity bus is “cool” in 2011.
Intercity bus travel is a star performer right now. In fact, it’s the only long distance passenger transportation mode that grew appreciably last year. DePaul research teams discovered that “curbside operators” Megabus and BoltBus increased trips by 32 percent. Megabus made a major push in the South and Texas, and its major hubs (Chicago and New York) are now profitable. Greyhound added 38 daily departures to its national route.

Read more about this trend in the popular press.

3. The growth of car-sharing is spectacular.
I-Go, Zipcar, and other car-sharing organizations are growing by leaps and bound. The good news: car-sharing takes thousands of privately owned vehicles off the road. The bad news: many cities impose fees on car-sharing that are similar to “sin taxes” (like liquor, tobacco, and alcohol), pushing prices up by as much as 30 percent and discouraging greater usage. In a new study (done with Alice Bieszczat, a recent DePaul graduate), I call for local governments to waive these onerous rent-a-car taxes levied on this environmentally friendly transportation option. At least in Chicago the tax adds “only” 11 percent to the cost, thanks to a special exemption.

4. Metro rail ridership is on the rise.
Despite a weak economy, traffic on “metro” routes (such as the CTA “L” and New York subway) is booming. Traffic is up almost six percent this year, far more than airline or automobile travel. Metro systems have proven mostly impervious to high unemployment, especially compared to commuter rail and feeder bus operations, both of which have had much lower, even disappointing, growth rates. One possible reason for the spike in usage? More people are using Metro transportation for personal reasons and leisure trips, which offsets a decline in usage by riders going to and from work (a side effect of a loss of private-sector jobs in big cities like Chicago).

5. The interest in bus rapid-transit is surging.
Cash-strapped cities are eying the creation of bus rapid transit (BRT) routes, which have qualities similar to metro-rail routes, including turnstile entry and high-level platforms for fast boarding. Chicago is getting in on the act with a new “starter route” to South Chicago which can affordably provide service every four or five minutes, an efficiency that compares favorably to the cost of the city’s busiest rail rapid-transit routes (such as the CTA Red Line). Each winter, a DePaul study aboard class (MPS 573 Urban and Community Analysis) goes to Curitiba, Brazil to see the potential of BRT. The class uses the city as a “live laboratory” for evaluating policies intended to enhance efficiency and “livability” in large, dense urban areas.

What do these trends tell us? Apparently, the social status and cultural significance that used to attach to traveling in a personal automobile are declining. Now, when people want to get from A to B, the stigma of doing so via public transportation modes takes a back seat to other concerns and values.