2012-12-10

Co.Exist

Connected Commuting Can Keep Your Stress Levels Down

Getting to work in traffic is hard and frustrating, but a new study has found that people who use crowdsourced traffic apps and services that connect them to other commuters tend to have a better time.

Are you the type of commuter who waits patiently for delayed buses and silently deals with agonizing traffic, or are you proactive, using transit apps like Waze and Roadify to make your experience a little easier, if not more predictable? If you’re the latter--a so-called "connected commuter"--chances are that your commute may be just a little bit more enjoyable.

The news comes from the New Cities Foundation, which teamed up with Ericsson’s Research and Consumer Lab for a pilot study in San Jose, California, looking at trends, preferences, and commuting experiences among unconnected commuters and the connected commuters who use products like Waze (a car-focused transportation planning app) and Roadify (a public transportation planning app).

As part of the study, University of California CITRIS analyzed anonymous data from the two apps-- 114,256 Waze user reports from San Jose, and an unspecified amount of user comments from Roadify. The New Cities Foundation also conducted focus groups of commuters who regularly go to San Jose to gain more insight into the connected vs. unconnected commuter mindset.

Some of the highlights:

  • When users publish reports on Waze, nearly 50% select the "traffic jam" category. But when users decide to publish a comment alongside their report, 52% are in the “chit chat” category, where users post general travel-related comments. The app may, in other words, provide a sense of community.
  • Using Text Sentiment Analysis software, researchers determined that comments in the "chit chat" category were on the whole more positive than comments posted elsewhere. The report concludes: "This may indicate that the social nature of the “chit chat” category contributes to a more enjoyable commuting experience by adding a more human element."
  • Roadify didn’t have a broad enough data set to generate comprehensive conclusions, but it did confirm that "user comments are highly pertinent to the topic of commuting and are a good source of vocabulary needed to fine tune text sentiment analysis software to more accurately understand commuter sentiment."
  • In the focus groups, researchers found that public transportation users don’t think they need insight from other commuters as much as car commuters do. Drivers seek out connections, probably because they’re alone and can’t just ask fellow commuters for information about delays, etc.
  • Connected car commuters say that they’re “happy,” “content,” “excited," and "less stressed" according to the report, complaining only that they’re busy. Unconnected car commuters, on the other hand, describe fatigue as their biggest complaint and call themselves "neutral" to "happy." Connected commuting is apparently very exciting!
  • Unconnected commuters don’t trust crowd-sourced data, while connected commuters are eager to share their information and get what they can from others.

What does it all mean? There are a growing number of commuting apps already available, but there is still a big opportunity for cities to get involved. The report explains, "The Connected Commuting study suggests that a large and rapidly growing number of cities worldwide can replicate low-cost, easily implementable solutions to the universal conundrum of traffic, provided the basic technology is available."

The report goes on to say: "An important area of future study would be to quantify how much time is saved per passenger on average due to information gained from connected commuting. The measurement of time saved could serve as a proxy to calculate the reduced cost of fuel to passengers, reduced CO2 emissions, increased productivity, and so on." We’d also like to see a study examining the impact of connected computing on health--chances are, the lessened stress of a predictable commute could make a real difference.

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