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Designing for commuters

'Making car ownership unnecessary', this was the mission statement given by Logan Green at this year's SXSW when asked about Lyft's mission and how different it is from Uber's. The question, Logan says, is what are we making to improve public transport in general. 

 

As a UX designer and someone who grew up in a city with bad public transport, I feel strongly about the impact this type of systems have in people's quality of lives. In cities like Bogota, Sao Paulo and Mexico City where the average commuter spends 4 hours surrounded by traffic jams, pollution, bumpy roads and unreliable time tables it's evident for a UX designer there are some serious pain points here. 

 

So when a company like Lyft says its mission is to make car ownership obsolete it gives me some hope that some of its $2.5 billions valuation is going to start solving the problems that are a reality for so many users. 

 

But this problem isn't unique to developing countries. My experience of staying in the outskirts of Austin during SXSW has been eye opening. My first morning at my (very hard to find) AirB&B accommodation started by checking the best way to get to downtown Austin using public transport. According to GoogleMaps there was a bus stop nearby showing a convenient timetable so I decided to take the bus, and got to the stop (picture below) around 5 minutes before my bus was scheduled. I waited, and waited thinking the bus would never arrive, and I just kept wondering if I was brave enough to hitchhike on my own. I probably waited for about 10 minutes before the bus arrived, which was actually better than I expected, however during that time I couldn't stop thinking on the irony of this commute. After all I was going to one of the biggest technology, business and forward thinking events in the world.

 My commute to this year's SXSW from one of the few AirB&B accommodation for the 2015 event. 

My commute to this year's SXSW from one of the few AirB&B accommodation for the 2015 event. 

Once inside the bus things didn't feel any better, instead it was another awakening to poor America right in the heart of "the fastest growing city in the country" as all its friendly citizens kept telling me.  It might sounds like an isolated bad experience but I'm sure I haven't been the first person disappointed by an unreliable old bus or expensive inter-city train in America. No wonder why everyone wants to buy a car here. And a very large one. 

 

So after visiting Austin I kept thinking when are Americans and for that matter the tech industry going to do something about their transport system. 

 

I once heard from a European visiting Bogota that he didn't understand why people in this city didn't protest against these conditions. Brazil held protests before the Olympics and little has changed since. Lack of funds and corruption is definitely part of the problem, but so is citizen's expectations of public transport systems in general.

 

 Trains in Zurich: http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html

Trains in Zurich: http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html

It was great to hear that the origins of Lyft were influenced by Logan's experience travelling in Zimbabwe where he saw locals sharing minivan taxis. However translating this example to the American market and the tech industry represents a bigger questions around a culture that has grown to be defined by cars and money.