Great timing, Apple. Just when I’ve decided to give up my car, along comes this news story. In short, Apple has tired of relying on Google’s rather lame mapping app for the iPhone and has chosen to go it alone. Here’s what concerns me:
Maps itself will not feature information on public transit or alternative methods of transport like biking, as Google’s app does now. Instead, Apple will release APIs for Maps and allow developers to build their own transit apps that will be featured, integrated, and promoted from within Maps.
Let me be blunt: I could not care less about turn-by-turn driving directions (Frankly, I don’t trust them). Despite its relative lameness, I use Google Maps heavily on my iPhone for walking and transit directions. I *crave* biking directions and integrated real-time arrival times for public transportation. Those two items have been my motivation for looking at Android phones but, for now, I’ve been content to wait. If Apple pushes out a new mapping app without lining up quality developers to produce walking and transit directions at least as good as Google’s, that will push me over the edge.
The generation currently entering the workforce and buying cell phones like candy is driving less and using public transportation and bikes more than my generation. Does Apple really want to risk losing them? I assume the answer is no and that Apple will get this all sorted out. That said, you know what happens when you assume, right?
I have been contemplating ditching our 2nd car for several years but have been reluctant for various reasons. While we have decent bus service near our home, many routes aren’t in service when I need to be at work. Additionally, while the base is only a 25 minute bike ride away, there are hills, a high school with inexperienced teenage drivers, and misty eye-glass obscuring conditions between here and there from time to time. Most days I’m fine riding into work but there are times where a “cumulative disincentive” builds up to the point where I just drive. Lastly, there are the memories of several heavy snow days where only our trusty Subaru could get me into work. Well, maybe a Salsa Mukluk could too. Or I could walk. And then there are those snowshoes gathering dust in the garage.
All that worrying aside, we’ve only driven our Subaru 2,000-3,000 miles per year since we bought our Prius. Additionally, many of those miles were for what I call “pity” drives – Times where I could have used another mode of transportation, or our Prius, but decided to take the Subaru to keep the fluids moving and the battery charged. But all in all, I really don’t need a car to get to work. My wife, on the other hand, does. Thankfully she is able to work from home many days which means I’ll still have access to a car at home from time to time. Additionally, I have 8 Zipcars within a 15 minute bus or bike ride as well. I’ve also been meaning to try out the many taxis I see in Bellevue as well.
I’m sure this decision will require some sacrifices such as getting up a little earlier to ride in every day or figuring out how to ride in sub-freezing temperatures – something I’ve been reluctant to do because of a combination of hills, ice, and knowing a fellow bus driver who broke his hip riding into work in icy conditions. But I’m excited to give it a shot and will keep you all up to date on the highs and lows of being car-lite in the suburbs.
“The automakers see the future, and it is for them a chilling one in which young people don’t buy cars…” – From Upstream to Downtown: Car Ads Head to the City
Anne Lutz Fernandez, author of Carjacked, tweeted about a recent shift in car ads. The tweet featured a rather silly ad showing JLo driving a tiny Fiat in a gritty New York neighborhood. The first time I saw this ad I found it unbelievable. Yes, it’s possible that JLo actually drives that tiny little car around her old neighborhood in the Bronx, although rumor has it she was recently driving an Aston Martin DB7 or a Lotus Elise.
But that’s not really my point. I’m thinking about car buying trends and looking at my situation is illustrative: I am 44 years old, a little under half way through my car-driving lifetime. To date I have purchased 3 cars: A Volkswagen Sirocco, A Saturn SL2, and a Subaru Legacy (shared with my wife for 5 years when we owned only 1 car). Traditionally, I am entering the years where car companies are counting on me upgrading to a more expensive luxury car. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve been tempted. The idea of driving a quiet luxury car on road trips *sounds* appealing, until I start running the numbers and looking at how much life is left in my 10 year old Subaru. Like a growing number of people, I’m seeking other ways to move around. Biking and taking public transportation have allowed me to cut way back on driving. Given the mileage I drive my personal car, and my desire to move back into the urban center, I find it highly unlikely that I will be buying 3 more cars throughout the rest of my car-driving lifetime. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of an outlier for my generation and that most of my friends still drive a lot. I can think of only one friend from College as committed to a “car-lite” lifestyle as I am. But even among my more car-oriented friends, I’ve heard plenty of interest in other modes of transportation. A growing number of people of all ages are hungry for choices.
If that doesn’t paint a grim picture for automobile marketers, looking at the stats for kids exiting high school and college today will send auto executives scurrying to Costco in search of enormous quantities of antacids. Here are a few gems from From Upstream to Downtown: Car Ads Head to the City:
- 75% of 17 year olds had their license in 1978 vs just 49% in 2008
- Twenty-somethings drive fewer miles – down 8% in just the last 15 years
- A growing percentage of twenty-somethings want to live and work in revitalizing urban centers
Private enterprise and various levels of government are responding by offering alternatives ZipCar, new bike facilities, and improved bus service. As more people choose to live in neighborhoods with viable alternatives to the private car, no doubt the car companies will keep trying to sell us cars, but will they succeed?