Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wireless internet access on public and private vehicles

In Boston the MBTA is installing broadband wi-fi access on their commuter boats. This is a good idea and should be expanded to other transit vehicles as a way of encouraging transit use. As more hand held devices (such as the iPhone) can use wireless internet, installing wi-fi on buses and local trains makes sense, too, in addition to commuter vehicles where everyone sits and has space to use a laptop.

However, Chysler is threatening to derail all the goodness of wi-fi on public transit by offering it as an option on all of their vehicles. This is a collossaly bad idea. One way to reduce driving and encourage transit is to actually treat driving as a task that demands attention. I suspect (and I say this with no empirical evidence) that one reason that people are somewhat willing to deal with long commutes, lots of driving and congested roads is that cars have become far more comfortable and accomodating over the past few decades. Perhaps a return to AM radios and stick shifts would reduce some of the positive utility of personal auto travel. Or, maybe people will start to value their online and other communication connections more than the physical connections that they get from driving. If this becomes the case we'd expect people to switch to transit because they value they're ability to stay electronically connected more than whatever benefits they get from driving (which is a function of time, accessibility and other costs).

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