10 Cities That Are Getting “Wired Transportation” Right

Image: Frontier Group, U.S. Public Interest Research Group
The Frontier Group and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group rated 70 cities on the availability of tech-enabled services like real-time transit information, ride-hailing, and bike-share. These are the top ten.

Which cities are making it easy to catch the next bus without a long wait, hail a ride with an app, or hop on bike-share? According to a new ranking from the Frontier Group and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Austin is leading the pack when it comes to embracing technological innovation that helps people get around without being tethered to a car.

The research team examined the availability of 11 types of technology-assisted transportation — like real-time transit information, ride-hailing services, virtual ticketing, multi-modal trip-planning apps, and bike-share — in 70 U.S. cities.

Some of them have penetrated nearly every market. For example, 68 metros have some form of peer-to-peer car-share that allows vehicle owners to rent their car to other people using services such as RelayRides. Services the authors call “ridesourcing,” like Uber and Lyft, are available in 59 cities. Ride-sharing services designed to facilitate carpooling, like those offered by ZimRide or Carma, are only available in five cities.

Some form of bike-share is available in 32 cities, and 47 offer real-time transit data. Only six cities, Austin among them, have “virtual ticketing” that allows transit passengers to purchase rides using smartphones without cash.

A total of 19 cities have what PIRG and Frontier referred to as “abundant choices” — at least eight of the 11 technologies. These cities are home to a combined 28 million people and tend to skew younger, with greater access to the internet.

Image: Frontier Group/U.S. PIRG
Image: Frontier Group/U.S. PIRG

30 thoughts on 10 Cities That Are Getting “Wired Transportation” Right

  1. Given that in this last election we just blew our chance to finally get started on building a light rail system (after previously narrowly failing to do so back in 2000), I’m glad there’s at least one thing Austin is doing well on with transportation! Since we seem incapable of taking any big steps, maybe we’re going to have to take lots and lots of little steps, like this sort of thing.

  2. I just moved to NYC a few months ago after living in Chicago for 9 years. I am incredibly shocked to see that Chicago didn’t make this list of top-rated cities. Honestly it throws the whole “study” into question for me.

    I know this is anecdotal, but almost every single person I knew in Chicago used a consolidated train/bus tracker app utilizing real-time data, and I know for a fact that nearly if not all of those other options are available as well. Chicago’s bike-share app was fantastic.

    On that note, can someone recommend a good app for tracking trains & buses using real-time data in NYC? Also can someone tell me whether the B,D,F,J,M,Z trains are tracked in real-time? It appears that MTA’s proprietary app is only available on iPhone and only tracks the 1,2,3,4,5,6 and S42 St Shuttle lines. (http://web.mta.info/apps/subwaytimeapp.html)

    ***just noticed this was posted in USA, not NYC.

  3. Regarding public transport….

    I moved out to LA a couple of weeks ago and was also shocked to see that Chicago didn’t make the list. Here in LA, Metro finally implemented this recently for both bus and trains. The issue is that other communities’ buses such as Santa Monica and Culver City (I’m on the west side) don’t have GPS tracking.

    On paper, it may be OK ut for this westside resident, in practice it’s awful compared to Chicago.

  4. Chicago was ranked 14th – and, in my opinion, the report didn’t have a fine enough grain to distinguish between various cities that are all doing a decent job with transit technology.

  5. Thanks, Joe — makes sense. As it’s more of a technological ranking and less of a transit-focused tech ranking , I guess it can explain a bit as to why us ex-Chicagoans were surprised by it.

  6. Austin’s 2014 rail proposal was a huge step in the wrong direction (building rail in the wrong place produces huge operating subsidies which drain the rest of the system and prevent any further expansion).

  7. Right. So instead of building a not-perfect-but-helpful starter system, which we could have expanded once rail transit proved its worth, we’re going to build absolutely no light rail for the next 10 years. If Seattle and Denver and Portland had insisted on building their most high-ridership, but also most politically charged and expensive lines first, they never would have gotten their systems off the ground.

  8. Jake, Austin’s at the statutory limit for transit funding (the state will not allow the sales tax to be raised any higher; other forms of taxes that those other cities have available are not allowed here). And those cities did NOT build anything as dumb as the Highland line as their first shot, either.

    A bad rail line which dramatically increases operating subsidies compared to the buses it would replace (or did, in the case of the Red Line) leads to less service overall, and no possibility for expansion.

    In other words, it wasn’t helpful at all – it would have been damaging. Not every step is progress.

  9. I’m sorry, I just don’t agree with you. I don’t think that connecting a redeveloping mall to the east side of UT (to serve a brand new medical school) to the Capitol to the entertainment district of downtown to the burgeoning high-rise apartment corridor on East Riverside would have been a bad or a dumb move. Sure, maybe it wouldn’t have been the #1 highest ridership line as Guadalupe/Lamar would have been. It was a good, maybe not the best, but a good line that had support from all of the biggest players and that was ready to be built within a reasonable time frame.

    What would have been the chances of getting federal funding for a Guadalupe/Lamar line with the feds having just funded the MetroRapid lines there? And what about the opposition of Austin’s #1 employer, UT, to that route on the west side of campus? Don’t you think that the NIMBYs living in all of the neighborhoods flanking Lamar and Guadalupe would have fought to the death to oppose their precious car lanes being removed to make way for a train? Or if undergrounded, how much higher would the cost of that line been than what was proposed?

    As for the funding cap, well, there simply must be a way to figure that out. Dallas and Houston have built large systems. So have many other, much smaller, cities in the West and Southwest, most of them with weaker economies and job and population growth than Austin. I don’t buy that Austin is uniquely incapable, among prosperous mid-sized US metro areas, of figuring out how to fund the operations of a multi-line LRT system.

    You and I are just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. The anti-transit, government haters were always going to hate this plan. But if so many of the transit geeks hadn’t been against it, I really think it might have passed. You think that was a good move, and I think it was a terrible mistake that means we’re going to wait until 2030 until an LRT line of any sort opens.

    Really, it’s sort of irrelevant now. We’re going to need to figure out how to improve our transportation system with roadway charging, bike lanes, bus lanes, BRT, and a bunch of other small stuff like what was mentioned in this article, for the next 10-15 years. Austin should now aspire to be the greatest non-rail city in the United States. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

  10. Jake, we can’t start fighting the next battle until we understand the last one. And you seem to have a level of trust in Project Connect’s veracity (especially on Guadalamar, where they were explicitly shown to be lying) that is horrendously misplaced.

    Any rail line whose ridership is not ‘high enough’ would have prevented expansion and hurt bus service. It didn’t have to be as high as #1, but it sure as hell had to be higher than HERC.

    Julio, who is no friend of mine, published many analyses of this. Go check out Keep Austin Wonky if you want the details.

    As for Dallas and Houston, they started with a local equivalent of Guadalamar, which led to a system boost instead of cuts in bus service; which led to later election victories for expansions.

  11. You seem to have a level of trust that if only we pick the right project, the perfect project, then the voters will see the light and support it, no matter what the big institutions and big power players have to say about it.

    I don’t think so: first, with the switch to the 10-1 system, I find it highly unlikely that any LRT champions will arise from the new Council, when so many of them campaigned by saying that the LRT line would do nothing for their districts. Second, the property tax revolt has now started and is only going to get stronger. I think the voters’ willingness to open their wallets for something like LRT has come and gone. Third, I think the big power players whose muscle would be needed to win a transit election are feeling burned by the people they thought would be in their corner this last time around, and I doubt they’re going to be eager to fight this battle again anytime soon, particularly for an alignment that they don’t prefer.

    I really hope you’re right, and that a Guadalamar plan comes roaring back sometime in the not-so-distant future. (Though if 2016, possibly the best chance of all, were to happen, boy they’d better get cracking on it right quick.) Seems highly unlikely to me, though. Maybe self-driving cars will save us all.

  12. WRT first paragraph, no. Politics is hard no matter what. But I do recognize that picking a bad route (note: not just “not the perfect one”; Highland Rail was BAD, not good, actually BAD) makes the economics impossible; and we don’t get to change the state government that sets the funding limits we have to live under.

    WRT second paragraph, there’s a ton of business interests that support Guadalamar, as well as all of the relevant NAs. Again, your trust in the pro-Prop1 people is seriously misplaced. References upon request.

  13. Can you give me an intuitive explanation (since I’ll be honest–I’m not going to spend hours digging through technical reports here) for why the proposal was a bad, and not just a good-but-not-perfect, route?

    After all, it seems to me that it was connecting a lot of existing major ridership generators: the university, the Capitol, Sixth Street, student housing on Riverside Drive. Plus it would have served a lot of areas primed for growth over the next twenty years: the east side of downtown (ready to erupt now that the Waller Creek flooding situation is about to be fixed); the area around the Dell Medical School; the ACC-anchored Highland Mall redevelopment; and future high rises on Riverside. Plus it could have been connected to the airport later–maybe not the highest priority, admittedly, but a nice plus in a region so dependent on tourism. So given all of that, do you really think it was actually a bad route? What made it so bad?

    BTW I am genuinely curious as to your response and I’m not going to try to argue against it. You are obviously very knowledgeable about all of this. And I don’t feel much stake in this debate since I truly believe that we’re just going to have try to improve our transportation system without LRT for a long time to come. If I’m wrong, as I hope I am, I will happily argue in favor of LRT on the west side of downtown/campus.

  14. Long story short: It doesn’t connect those things. East side of the university isn’t where people want to go; housing on Riverside isn’t for students so much anymore; Dell Medical is a tiny medical school; Riverside will get 3-5 story buildings to replace the old 3 story student apartments.

    There’s actually more profitable redevelopment opportunity on LG. And Highland would work IF AND ONLY IF you put a bunch of true high-rises there, but that’s not the plan; they envision, wait for it, 3-5 story apartment buildings with lots of parking.

    The residential parts the line would have gone close to are not as dense or walkable as they need to be to support rail, and there’s zero chance of that changing.

    Finally, the numbers showed that even using Project Connect’s excessively high projected ridership (which many of us who sat through every data dive found huge flaws with), Highland/ERC rail would cost at least a few MORE dollars per ride in operating subsidy than would frequent buses on the same corridor (which does not actually suffer from traffic congestion, so local buses would and do actually work pretty well). That money has to be made up for elsewhere, and Julio ran a range of scenarios to see how many “bus hours” would have to be bought down to make up for the losses on the HERC corridor.

    Julio’s scenarios: https://keepaustinwonky.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/rail-risks/
    Julio’s 1 minute pitch:
    Clearinghouse: http://www.worsethannothing.org

    My site: m1ek.dahmus.org

    (In good rail lines, like Houston’s first and like Guadalamar, you keep operating subsidies the same or even lower them – helping fund efficiencies that can pay for more bus service elsewhere or save for expansion).

  15. What would be considered a “big” step? And, whatever your answer is, I’m also curious to know next; how many people would it be able to move?

    And first, what’s the problem you are hoping gets solved or noticeably alleviated by taking the big step you are about to mention?

  16. Big step for Austin: finally getting started on building an LRT step. (Though it’s now not going to happen anytime soon.)

    Number of people it would move? I dunno, honestly. Maybe 20,000 riders per day? I don’t have time to dig into reports. But if the route is selected well, then it will move enough people to be useful.

    The reason: so that Austin can take its first steps towards rebuilding a culture of transit riding, walking, and urbanism in general, since these are now more-or-less nonexistent outside of a tiny sliver of Central Austin. This is a 50-year undertaking, so it’s not like the first LRT line will bring that about single-handedly. But it would be an awfully important first step.

  17. It would an “awfully expensive” step, that’s about it unfortunately.
    If you’re advocating that billion(s) of dollars be spent on a tool to move people, don’t you think you’d want to know how many people it will actually move? And understand the difference between “people” and “trips”.

    With those two understandings, you can really determine what impact it will ever be able to have, and if billions are worth spending on the effort for that calculated impact.

    With approx six million trips per day going on in Austin, look at your impact vs cost. Oh, and 20,000 is way over on the guess by the way. Actually a fraction of that.
    The entire CapMetro system currently does around 115,000 trips (not people) per day, which is obviously unnoticeable inside of 6,000,000. So, is billions if dollars over the next couple decades worth the effort?

    And you mentioned that your goal is to get more people riding transit. Why though? What’s the real goal behind people riding transit?
    Traffic congestion relief, right?
    Not the plush environment I assume, but the idea that efficiency will relieve congestion.

    So again, measure the impact and see just how possible it is to accomplish that.

  18. Tell you what: once your outrage about the billions of taxpayer dollars that are currently being spent to subsidize driving matches your outrage over the billions of dollars being proposed to be spent on transit, then let’s talk, OK?

    ‘Til then, I don’t really feel like engaging in a rail-versus-freeway debate. Later.

  19. I never mentioned anything about “tax payer” dollars, and there’s certainly no debate here. I was just putting some info in your ear about impact. I find it shocking when people are supportive of “big step” transit options (such as rail) but they are totally clueless as to how it will achieve whatever goal they have in mind, for whatever problem they are addressing.

    See, it all starts out with a problem being addressed. There’s a problem, and then there’s a solution, or measurable steps towards a solution. If it were your billions of dollars, I bet you’d want to measure the impact it would have if you spent it.

    Just identify the problem you are addressing first, and then identify how you would measure progress/success/relief/resolve (whatever your goal is). Once you know how to measure success, just calculate the numbers using grade-school math, and wallah. You’ll quickly see yourself shifting you money and your thoughts toward real solutions, not just “spend it because we’ve got it.”

    But hey, I get it, you don’t want to spend any time debating anything, much less discovering the numbers behind what you’re advocating. It’s common. Super common. Too common.

  20. Overdependence on automobiles in Austin’s transportation system is the umbrella problem. It creates a whole set of more specific problems:

    1) Increasing air pollution and climate change emissions.

    2) Decreasing quality of life, as more people have to commute longer distances to get to work (as a result of increased traffic congestion and loss of affordable housing as the job-rich urban core of the region gentrifies). Long commutes in cars have been shown to be a major aggravating factor for all sorts of health problems, such as hypertension, heart disease, depression, and so on.

    3) Social inequity: people who cannot drive (people with disabilities, the elderly, people who cannot afford cars) are effectively excluded from full citizenship in the region. Many working class people are forced to drive at great expense because they have no other alternatives for getting to work and running errands, and thus have to shortchange other parts of their budgets (saving for their children’s college and retirement, health insurance, etc). The share of people who cannot drive or cannot afford to is steadily rising, and will only rise further in the future. Many low-income people will be trapped in distant suburbs far from job-rich core of the region, and will lose opportunities for upward mobility.

    4) Danger: driving becomes more dangerous as major roads like I-35 has heavier traffic with more and more semi trucks. Walking continues to be dangerous almost everywhere in Austin because of atrocious pedestrian safety conditions.

    5) Aesthetics: a generally visually depressing and blighted environment, oriented overwhelmingly to cars rather than to people, is pervasive in almost the entire region, except for a tiny sliver of the urban core.

    6) Environmental degradation: continuing outward sprawl results in the destruction of scenic and productive farmland and ranch land, much of which contributes mightily to the local tourist economy. Water quality is degraded by rampant paving. Nighttime summer temperatures in the US region with the fourth hottest summers continue to increase as a result of the urban heat island effect, abetted by all of the paving required to continue expanding automobile infrastructure (roads and parking lots).

    7) Fiscal stress: Austin and its suburbs, despite their red-hot economic and population growth, are paradoxically fiscally stretched to the limit. This is to the point where a property tax revolt is brewing in Austin (which, ironically, helped scuttle the recent LRT bond proposal). Why? Because of decades of extremely low-density, automobile dependent growth patterns that are tremendously wasteful uses of infrastructure–infrastructure that is expensive to build, and worse, expensive to maintain over time as it degrades. (See the Strong Towns critique.)

    Maybe I missed something, but that’s probably the bulk of it.

    OK, so what’s your solution?

  21. You forgot to add rising health costs, child abuse, theft, bullying, suicide rates, autism, alcoholism, drug wars, hunger, and drunk driving deaths. Plenty of mothers against drunk driving would be hurt that you didn’t tie into that problem too.

    Now, since all the problems in the world can be tied into this through indirect stress, how about you try to narrow down the core problem that has you advocating rails. I mean, rail cars aren’t going to hold all the people that suffer from these problems, so narrow her down a bit to a core problemo.

    Rail is going to cost more to ride than a bus ticket and have only 1-7 routes ever. The bus system already has over 80 routes and costs less than rail. Maybe that extra info will help your thought process here.
    Statistics show that you’ll maintain tunnel vision on this and just boil over instead of truly make effort to conceptualize. Let’s see…

  22. Wait a minute: you’re not holding up your end of the bargain. You asked me for the problems I want to solve, and I gave them to you, in great detail. But they are ALL symptoms of one “core problem:” The transportation system in Central Texas is much too dependent on cars, almost all of them occupied by just one person.

    So, I repeat my previous question to you: what’s YOUR solution to this core problem? Fine, so you think rail is a terrible idea, so what should we do instead?

  23. “Statistics show that you’ll maintain tunnel vision on this and just boil over instead of truly make effort to conceptualize. Let’s see…”

    By the way, this is the part where you have to stop being condescending and actually engage with what I’m saying. Your move …

  24. IF the powers the be would have proposed a different route for the train, then it might have passed. As always, they catered to UT and downtown. I feel that if the train is going to server ACC, UT, and downtown business alliance, then THEY can pay for it and voted NO. I live in north Austin and if the train had been on either Burnet Rd or North Lamar, then I would have voted YES. The existing Red Line already serves ACC Highland and downtown. And before I vote yes, I want to know how often it is going to run (both days and frequency). I have friends that live near Lakeline and they wished the existing Red Line operated on Saturday and Sunday. Part of the problem is Capital Metro thinks frequency only makes a difference during the week, and some buses on Sundays only operate once per hour, which is UNACCEPTABLE. Bus frequency needs to be every 15 minutes – half hour EVERY DAY (including weekends) if you want to get more people to ride transit. I ride because I don’t have a car. I take MetroAccess to and from work daily. The more bus stops Capital Metro REMOVES, the MORE places I can ride MetroAccess to, though Capital Metro claims MetroAccess is more expensive.

  25. The existing Red Line already serves ACC Highland and others that were in the LRT plan. Route 1 is OVER CROWDED because Capital Metro cut the frequency trying to force riders to the 801, which runs more frequently and cost more. Like Wikipedia says, Rapid in name only. It still gets delayed by traffic and it takes a long time to go from Tech Ridge to Southpark Meadown. Try riding it from end to end around the time a UT Football game gets done, or during SXSW. Capital Metro can’t figure out to run ADDITIONAL buses on Routes 1,3,5,7 during SXSW and ACL. Put me in charge of Capital Metro and I’ll make some real changes. With the first one being IF you work at Capital Metro or any of its contractors, you WILL ride Capital Metro to and from work, no exceptions. If the bus doesn’t come where you live, drive to the nearest park and ride. Then the existing garage for the employess could become additional paid parking downtown.

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