The Substitution and Generation Effects of Information Technologies on Mobility

The Substitution and Generation Effects of Information Technologies on Mobility

Source: Dr. Alison Conway (City College of New York) and Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue.

Undertaking a virtual activity has the potential to the substitution or generation of mobility.

  • Substitution. The diffusion of ICT within the social and economic life of individuals has allowed the growth of activities such as telecommuting, distance learning, online banking, and teleconferencing. The core assumption is that virtual activity is considered an adequate substitute for the physical equivalent, which is not commonly the case. The outcome of these virtual activities is the substitution of passenger trips to locations where they are normally taking place, such as the workplace or an educational institution. An emerging trend concerns virtual forms of entertainment, such as live video streaming, allowing participants to avoid a trip to the venue. The most significant substitution effect on mobility resulting from ICT involves electronic documents, which profoundly impacted courier trips and mail deliveries.
  • Generation. Because of the substitution effect, it is assumed that individuals have additional time to undertake other activities that could generate movements. For instance, once physical work trips are eliminated, shopping activity is no longer part of a trip chain, an individual can participate in new local activities during time saved from an eliminated commute trip to work, and leisure travel may occur to an independent destination. Alternatively, virtual activities can result in a net decline in mobility as several individuals may decide not to undertake additional travel and transfer time saved during transportation into personal time.

E-commerce represents a unique form of substitution and generation of mobility since it simultaneously impacts passengers and freight. On one side, e-commerce allows for substituting trips to stores as the transaction is undertaken online. On the other, the number of purchases taking place online results with fewer store deliveries as they are being replaced by home deliveries. E-commerce contributes to generating logistics activities as new facilities, such as fulfillment centers, are established in new locations.

Monitoring is a multidimensional group of virtual activities that rely on sensors to capture information that can be acted upon. For instance, monitoring equipment such as containers (e.g. temperature) can reduce the number of professional trips they were previously required to capture this information (technicians that need to be physically present). CCTV and sensors can be used for security purposes and reduce the number of personnel and rounds required to monitor a facility. Electronic toll collection reduces (or eliminates) the number of workers necessary to be on-site (tollbooths). Electronic gates at transport terminals are able to inspect vehicles remotely, verify documentation, and grant access to the facility. Self-checkout lanes in markets are also part of this category, reducing the number of workers necessary to process purchases. Last, a wide array of traffic monitoring applications supported by mobile devices have allowed these applications to gather real-time traffic conditions that can be used to change the timing and the routing of passengers and freight trips.