Saturday, March 18, 2017

What is the effect of google maps on our transportation footprint

I am getting ready to teach my Spring quarter Life cycle assessment class which begins in a couple of weeks time. While LCA might be an integral part of the toolkit for environmental and economic sustainability assessment, teaching LCA is challenging. It is easy to lose the attention of your class once you get into the details of the actually of carrying out an LCA. Therefore, I am hoping to get my students to think of doing an LCA on some cool topics (see here for past topics) such as what has happened to the footprint of entertainment (watching movies or sitcoms, sports etc.) or vacation. After all we work to be able to afford leisure. I hope to write a separate blog on each of these later.

For now, I am wondering about the question of how google maps affects our transportation footprint.
I can tell you that just as far back as a decade, one could even afford to forget to carry a wallet as you set out to drive some place new but not forget to pack a Rand McNally road atlas. Hardly would you have turned the corner that you would realize you cannot get to where you want to go! In fact, I became AAA member so that I go pick up unlimited free maps rather than as an insurance against unexpected car break downs or getting locked out of your car. But alas, smart phones have rendered printed maps obsolete, and perhaps even conserved a few trees along the way!

However, this post is not about smart phones per se but about maps, specifically google maps as I am android user. Until recently I was of the opinion that Google maps is a boon for non-auto modes of road travel. By integrating various modal options in one convenient place along with detailed schedules for buses/trains you can be comfortable using public transit as a visitor let alone your own city.

But now I'm not sure for google maps now also shows you how cheap (and quick as well except during rush over) Lyft and Uber are compared to public transit. It would be really great to get some insights on the effect of this information on decision to take public transit. In any case, I think it might be worthwhile to nudge people by also attaching information about pollution or some sort of social cost information. I think I have found an exciting motivating discussion to open my LCA course and hopefully convince a team to do a project along these lines this quarter. But, this comes with a cost, the more exciting the first lecture, the harder it is to sustain excitement for the rest of the quarter! I know all about that from my experience sitting on the other side of class.

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