Any city or neighborhood built in the last seventy years is likely car-centric. The newly acquired convenience of a fast, affordable and reliable car changed the way we live and thus transformed the places we live. Building out is easier and cheaper than building up, except for the municipalities that have to foot the bill for the infrastructure, so the real estate community was all too happy to oblige in the world’s new automophilia.
Now that the chrome has tarnished and the newness of living life out of a car seat has faded, we are seeing the downside of creating our towns around cars and not vice versa. Cities are more affordable, healthy and sustainable when they can be navigated without a car. When residents are able to forgo a car purchase they have more money for expenses that are more directly impactful to the local economy and cities can use less public space for parking. With fewer cars, cities infill with more residents and more activities to support them.
As technology has created efficient mass transit and new ways to get around it has also made cars, even more, a part of our local economies. Ridesharing companies empower some to be less dependant on cars but also make using them even more convenient. So convenient that it has many turning first to their favorite ridesharing app instead of finding viable public transportation options.
Uber, Lyft and all the others are quick to point out that they can be additive to a public transportation system by providing the “last mile” option that can get riders to transportation hubs. This is likely true, but in the world of one-click convenience, many would rather just use their crowdsourced cab to go directly to their destination when it is not cost prohibitive. Plus, now there are many great options like electric scooters and dockless bikes that can handle last mile logistics (as long as the hills are not too steep).
So if there really is no replacement for public transportation then how do we convince people to use it? It turns out that the property industry might have a role in that. Buildings and residences near transit centers are already benefiting from premium valuations but just being close to a bus or train line doesn’t mean that people will use it. The key is in reducing friction. One example of how properties can help reduce the friction of uncertainty in public transit is a collaboration between TransitScreen, a real-time data platform for urban mobility, and Bixby, a property management tool and tenant portal. Now residents of buildings can understand all of their transportation options, including ride sharing, on the same app that they use to pay their rent and put in a service request.
Breaking our dependency on cars will take sacrifice. Nothing is easier than jumping in a car and going directly to your destination. But if the arteries of our cities get clotted with traffic, then driving can cease to feel like the best option. The power of technology comes from the information that it can disseminate. That power can transform our built environments if it helps to make better choices in how we go to and from the places where we live our lives.