By: Shaila Jamal

A smartphone can serve as a entirely functional and efficient computer and with its various dynamic applications, it offers a extensive range of travel supporting solutions. Within a single device, it can facilitate telephone conversation, SMS and texting, email, information browsing, online social networking, online and teleshopping/e-shopping, etc. Using smartphone applications, people are able to map their travel routes and destinations. They can make decisions on their purchase without arriving at the destination, reducing their travel distance and time. Moreover, many people use their phones as a tool to get traffic updates, look up bus-train schedules, pre-book shows, make online purchases, telecommunication, etc., which also enhance convenience regarding daily travel needs. Statistics show that the number of smartphone users has significantly increased in recent years. According to the recent studies, the smartphone penetration rate in Canada was 87% (, 2022) and it is particularly popular among young generations with statistics showing 94% of 15 – 34 years own at least one, compared to 69% of the 55 – 64 years and 18% of those 75 and over. However, the interaction between Information and Communication Technology (ICT), society and travel is very complex. As smartphones have become part of our lifestyle, it is expected that it has an influence on our personal travel. Nevertheless, there is a possible relationship between the use of smartphones and everyday travel and an improved understanding of this evolving area is demanding.

Research that focus on smartphones mostly addressed technical perspective such as designing mobile systems and adoption of mobile information systems. Regarding travel behavior, some very recent research on smartphone use mainly focused on leisure or recreational trips. Some researchers tried to develop a broad foundation for understanding the impact of smartphone use on tourism related travel experiences. However, it is not clear within transportation research how smartphone usage has changed day-to-day travel behavior, which has been identified as a gap. We have studied this problem by using quantitative data analysis techniques. Primary data collection is performed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and  statistical analysis is conducted on the usage of smartphones and its’ applications in trip planning and travel outcome.

Through exploratory analysis (e.g., chi-square test), we found that socio-economic characteristics and travel characteristics impact travel behavior. Results suggest that smartphone applications mostly influence younger individuals’ trip planning decisions. Transit pass owners are frequent users of smartphone applications for trip planning and they commonly use smartphone applications for deciding departure times and mode choices. The analysis also suggested the limited impact of smartphone application use on reducing vehicle kilometers traveled by individuals. Next, we applied econometric modeling approaches to explore the covariates that affect the use of smartphones for trip planning as well as the covariates of the perceived impact of smartphone use on travel outcomes. Trip planning activities considered in the study include performing online tasks, deciding departure time, mode choice decision, deciding trip destination and communicating and coordinating trips by using smartphones. Travel outcomes include the number of new places visited, social gatherings attended and trips planned in groups. Following an ordered response and binary choice modeling approach, this study identified that age and attitudes (toward smartphone use and environment) play a significant role in using smartphones for trip planning as well as shaping travel outcomes. Millennials (16–34 years) are more likely to use smartphones for trip planning and perceive an increase in travel outcomes compared to other age groups. In addition, a tech-savvy attitude is positively associated with trip planning and travel outcomes. The study also finds that those who highly use smartphone apps for social networking purposes are more likely to perceive an increase in their travel outcomes.

Finally, we explored the impact of smartphone apps on discretionary (i.e. non-commute) travel. The results of the regression analysis suggest that the use of smartphone apps for travel-related activities significantly influences the number of discretionary trips. For example, frequent use of apps for scheduling meetings significantly increases social, shopping, and recreational trips. The study also revealed that apps play a facilitating and enabling role for social and entertainment trips.

The study provides strong evidence that age and attitudes (toward smartphone use and environment) profoundly influence smartphone use for trip planning and travel outcomes. Immense diffusion of technology is also bringing change to people’s lifestyle and travel. The impact of ICT or smartphones on human mobility is needed to be considered while formulating strategies and policies. With the increasing use of smartphones, urban planners need to think about developing a smart city concept where smartphones will be a significant integrating tool for virtual activities such as e-commute, e-commerce, and e-governance. This can help to achieve the goals of sustainable travel behavior to build next-generation cities and towns in Canada.

Shaila Jamal

Shaila Jamal is a final year Ph.D. candidate at the School of Earth, Environment and Society at McMaster University. She holds a Bachelor of Urban and Regional Planning from Bangladesh University of Technology (BUET) and Master of Planning Studies degree from Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia. Her core area of research is transportation planning and policy analysis, and quantitative data analysis. Substantively, she is interested in the social and sustainable issues of urban mobility and daily travel. Starting in 2018, she has been part of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funded project titled ‘Automobility in Canada: An Intergenerational Perspectives’. Also, in 2020, She received a three-year Doctoral Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).  More recently, in 2021, she was awarded an 18-month McMaster Co-Design Hub Innovation Grant by the Office of the VP, McMaster University, to conduct a project titled ‘Improving Transit’s Role in Addressing Transportation Challenges and Barriers of Immigrant Seniors in Hamilton’. The project is partnered with Hamilton Street Railways (HSR), Social Planning and Research Council (SPRC) of Hamilton, Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council (HIPC). To date, she has co-authored twenty publications, and a book chapter for Elsevier’s book series “Advances in Transport Policy and Planning” .