Study: Commuters ditching car for train in order to use cell phone

- People live and die by their cell phone, and there’s nothing more frustrating than a dropped call or that little buffering symbol.

But in the Chicago area, we have far and away some of the best wireless service in the country.

An independent review by Rootmetrics of wireless service in the 125 biggest cities shows only Atlanta has better service than we do. New York and LA don't come close. Hudson Valley, New York and Reno, Nevada have the worst service.

And now, a new study suggests that people are dumping their cars for the love of their devices.

Metra says 80 percent of their riders use cell phones while on the train, and the DePaul study says this is not just a change in technology use. It’s a lifestyle change that more people are choosing to be on the train than in their car. 

America’s love affair with their car may be coming to a screeching halt, at least when it comes to Chicago commuters. 

“Technology is driving how people make travel decisions. They want to be able to engage with their device. When you are driving, it's kind of worst case scenario, you can’t text, you can't do social media, you can't work, that's good news for transit,” said Joe Schwieterman, who’s a DePaul University transportation professor.

A study released last month by DePaul indicates commuters are choosing the Metra over highways, just so they can check email and Facebook.

The study was mainly based on observing train passengers and its evening rush on a Wednesday night.

Schwieterman said their study shows that at any given time, 56 percent of the riders on a train are using mobile devices.

“I did have a car I sold it and now I value my time on my phone or on my tablet. I also study a lot, I’m in school, I work full time, so I get a lot of studying done in my commute,” said commuter Abigail Baker.

“Ideally self-driving cars would be great. I would love to be driven. If I could black out all the windows, that would be perfect,” said commuter Ross Pometta.

Some drivers say they understand they reason why people are ditching their cars for the cell phones.

“That’s what they should do then if they want to check their phone, they should go to the train,” said commuter Maria Morales.

“When I was in college, everyone knew what kind of car you had, that was kind of how you identified with somebody's identity, how people ask what do you got, what kind of device? Or what plan do you have, what signal do you get,” Schwieterman said.

So it seems at least, according to this study, we may be trading in our mobility for our mobile devices.

The CTA put a lot of time and money into upgrading Wi-Fi service on the Red and Blue Lines. Cell phone companies paid to have 4-G technology installed along the lines this winter. The technology has been phased at a cost of $32.5 million dollars.

Metra is in the process of adding power outlets in train cars, and while it's still down the road, they say they are looking into adding Wi-Fi to the rail system.

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