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Mobile use on buses grows, stays flat on planes: study

The study by DePaul University?s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, found that the ability to stay connected has significantly boosted the growth of intercity bus and train travel. Airline passengers have generally given up on intensive in-flight mobile use, suggesting that U.S. regulators? recent easing of a ban on personal electronic devices has had little effect.

"Consumers want to always be in control ? to be able to able to manage their schedules, respond to emails and texts, and keep up with office tasks without interruption,? said Joseph Schwieterman, director of Chaddick Institute. ?This puts their desires at odds with the requirements of air travel."

?People go to great lengths to avoid feeling trapped without an ability to communicate or make good use of their time,? he said. ?Personal devices alleviate concerns that they will be stuck in isolation." 

Megabus booming
Titled ?The Personal Tech Tidal Wave: The Rising Use of Electronic Devices on Intercity Bus, Planes & Trains,? the institute?s fifth annual study of personal electronic device use among passengers on intercity buses, planes, and trains sampled 7,034 passengers on 106 departures.

It found that discount city-to-city buses services such as Megabus experienced the fastest increase in technology use. More than 59 percent of bus passengers powered up ? an increase from 46.4 percent a year earlier ? and outdistanced Amtrak trains, conventional buses and air travel by a wide margin.

"Discount city-to-city buses attract an enormously diverse clientele,? Mr. Schwieterman said. ?Young professionals and students ? the mainstays of their passenger base ? have been using devices intensively for years, but now even lower-income groups are following suit. The result has been double-digit percentage increases in tech use on these carriers."

Mobile use on airlines remained virtually flat and continues to lag behind other modes, suggesting the Federal Aviation Administration?s easing of a ban on use of personal electronic devices has had little effect. Although the use of certain devices now is permitted during takeoffs and landings, flyers are still unable to connect to Wi-Fi or 3G/4G systems, send text messages, or place phone calls.

Powering off 
"Many flyers simply say heck with it and leave their devices off for all or most of the flight,? Mr. Schwieterman said. ?Consumers are prevented from communicating at a critical point in their trip ?after they stow their bags and take a seat ? and most consider the hassle factor of buying Wi-Fi to be too great."

"On air trips, time gets sliced up into small allotments due to the need to go through security, wait to board the plane, and the requirement to keep devices on airplane mode,? he said. ?Many travelers simply decide to chill out and wait until arrival before resuming intensive digital activity.?

Megabus trip reservation feature in mobile application. 

The study also found overall tablet and e-reader use rising, with the devices accounting for more than one third of devices used on planes.

"Tablets boot up quickly and have long battery life, so they are a particular favorite among flyers,? Mr. Schwieterman said. ?For the first time, however, we are seeing lots of tablets on buses and trains ? a clear sign that they are replacing laptops and smartphones in all demographic groups."

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Marketer, New York.