Use Only What You Need – The Lesson of Apple Maps, Detroit, and 27-Year-Olds

There were two huge announcements in the news a few days ago that I think are more connected than they seem at first glance: Apple Maps announced that it was buying Hopstop and Detroit filed for bankruptcy.

They are connected because of what both announcements represent – we are moving more quickly than ever from a car-centric society to a mobility-centric one.

Detroit has been synonymous for more than 70 years with the manufacturing of cars and trucks. And yet, after decades of problems, city leaders had to finally declare bankruptcy. While at the same time, Apple Maps made a big move away from just driving instructions (for your car) and into the world of public transit with the purchase of Hopstop.

Detroit’s demise stemmed from the fact that the region was so tied to automobile manufacturing that it lacked the diversity and resiliency to react to changes in the automobile industry. If you tie your fortunes to a single enterprise, you run a risk – good times are great but bad times are catastrophic.

And that helps explain Apple’s decision to try and move into public-transit information. I think the company realizes that young people today are driving less and seeking alternative modes of transportation.

Even Google, known for its Google Maps with transit information, reached out and purchased Waze, a crowd sourcing driver’s navigation app with more than 50 million users. Google and Apple are trying to meet the mobility needs of all their users, not just a segment of users.

Now, think of people who are 27-years-old today. They were born in 1986. By the time they were 10-years-old in 5th grade, the internet and email were strong in many schools. By the time they were 18-years-old and graduating from high school, it was 2004 and Facebook was born. By the end of their first semesters in college, Facebook had a million users. Their college experience was immediately different than anyone born before 1986.

And now, the sharing begins. Through Facebook and MySpace, they are sharing ideas, thoughts and plans. Then, MP3 files take off, and instead of just sharing CDs, they are sharing music. And then later, they are sharing digital movies. It’s also important to remember that in college, like every generation, few of us have any real money to speak of. And so, as they went through college, they are sharing cars, clothes, and everything else. But then, eBay and Craigslist gives them the chance to buy what they need (without having to purchase new) and then immediately sell it again on eBay or Craiglist. Think of it as only temporary ownership – or simply sharing with a little exchange of money involved.

Then, move with the 27-year-olds into 2008. They are trying to find jobs at the front end of the worst recession in the United States in 80 years. Their buying power is instantly lower and starting salaries are not what they were two years before. And since car ownership is the second most expensive part of a person’s life, it’s no surprise they are buying fewer cars. Since they own fewer cars themselves, they are sharing rides, riding the bus, and enjoying the freedom of so many new mobility options like car2goSidecarbikesharerideshare and all the traditional taxi and shuttle options available.

When you bring it all together, in many ways, those born in and around 1986 are leading a revolution in society that we should all pay very close attention to. The best part so far is that there are very few downside risks to a more collaborative approach to society. There are a lot of great byproducts of people redefining the triangle of home, work, and mobility. We are reducing our waste and abuse of the planet. We are improving the quality of our lives. And, as people spend more time together instead of alone in their cars, it’s good for social capital.

The future of transportation is an ecosystem of options that provide the full complement of choice for people to use only what they need, when they need it. Whether a person needs a bus, a car for just an hour, or a ride with a friend to the next town for a concert, the goal for all of us should be to use only what we need.

Photo by Becky Johns

This article was originally published at Joseph’s blog, The Austin Road Scholar.

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