The latest transport innovations are driving us to distraction

As technology starts to change the way we use transport, Tom Taylor reckons creating lanes for smartphone users is more than clickbait, it’s a sign of the times.


This past week, officials in the city of Chongqing China unveiled a walking lane dedicated entirely to smartphone users. The story was quickly shared around the web as one of those quirky stories of the day (and almost certainly welcomed by anyone who has ever witnessed the painful sight of smartphone walker walking into smartphone walker), but this recent development also provides an insight into future transit. Or perhaps more to the point, how people are already travelling.

There is another transit related development that I’ve always found curious: the driverless car. Google and others have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a project that aims to bridge fantastical visions of futurism and current technologies.

There is a trend here that belies and links these seemingly gimmicky developments. In a time when down time means dead time and where entertainment or email inboxes are just a passcode away, the notion of simply travelling is over. We are, for better or worse, addicted to our luminescent screens and so time behind the wheel or time on the footpath is wasted time.

Transit is changing as our behaviours change and the entrepreneurial among us (re: Google), realise that these changes in behaviours demand changes in the way we live and the way we travel.

While Sergey Brin manages to persuade hundreds of millions that they should let his robots drive their vehicles, public transport might be the natural beneficiary in the interim. Public transport offers time to sit back and play Candy Crush and not have to worry about the peak-hour traffic.

In a recent Optus advertisement, Josh Thomas calls his hip, beanied friend who is travelling on a bus. The friend has a number of devices in her hand that she is playing simultaneously, and though she is somewhat of a caricature of the contemporary urbanite, she doubles as the prototype for transit users, now and increasingly in the future, where transport is dictated by how easily we can access our technologies. The bus might be full and hectic, but at least she can listen to her music and chat to her great friends, like Josh Thomas, without worrying about veering off the road.

If you’ve caught public transport recently, you would know this already. The majority of those around you will be staring wistfully into their devices and while it is difficult to say empirically that these devices have (subliminally) lured their users from their cars, the prospect is also not outrageous.

Maybe our unfailing attachment to our devices might help us to unwittingly make more environmentally friendly choices. Maybe the technology-based solutions that neo-environmentalists have been talking about all this time are not specky apps that suck up carbon dioxide and then give you a free movie ticket, but alluring technologies that will lead us away from a car-dominated transit system into more sustainable forms of travel. Maybe when forced to choose between our insatiable love for cars and peak-hour traffic and our arguably even more insatiable love for our devices, we might just opt for the latter.

Transit is changing. It is changing as the world becomes increasingly urbanised and the economics of transport options change, but there is also another fundamental factor that is changing the way we get around now and into the future.

Lanes for smartphone users is more than clickbait, it’s a sign of the times: car companies, please mind the gap.

Share via