The latest Pew Internet and American Life Project report that was released last week found that a whopping 63% of American adults access the internet through some kind of wireless/mobile device.
In addition, nearly 90% of American adults have a cell phone, six in 10 have a laptop, and nearly 20% own an e-book reader, and nearly 20% have a tablet computer (such as an iPad).
The ramifications of these data for transportation communications professionals is significant. The trend we forecast 18 months ago has already arrived. We now have an almost entirely mobile audience that is no longer tethered to a computer attached to a wall.
That means transportation agencies – at their core operationally focused organizations – must understand that there is a significant compression of time and space. It is no longer acceptable to think of your information program as an 8-to-5 operation. People stuck in traffic at 6 a.m. want to know immediately why they are not moving. Transit riders want to know within minutes whether their train or bus is not going to arrive on time.
Even more, wireless means that the questions people ask while they are out and about deserve answers right away. What is the status of that transit project? When are the new buses coming into service? How much is that new interchange costing taxpayers? Those are the kinds of “finger tip” questions that we need to answer any time of the day or evening.
In this evolving world, communication teams need to ask themselves whether the priorities of two years ago still apply. Are we hiring the right people? Are we training them the right way? Are we focusing on the right communication projects? I do not have all the answers here, but I think the best communication programs will be asking these kinds of questions.
Here is the most complicating dilemma for transportation communicators. The Pew study not only showed further adoption of wireless internet, it showed that a couple of key segments of the population – older adults and those with certain disabilities – are still not using the internet at all – or find the internet difficult to access and use.
So, while we see that the use of wireless computing to access the internet cuts across demographic differences of income, age and race, we still cannot ignore those who are being left behind. And that is even more reason to carefully take a look at priorities, your target audiences and decide on the best tactics and tools to get the job done.