Study Finds That Drivers Would Rather Use a Transporter, but People Who Walk or Bike Enjoy the Ride

Screen capture. Star Trek, the original series

For people who walk or bike, getting there is half the fun.

The idea of the Transporter on Star Trek always frightened me. As Doctor McCoy said in the Space Seed episode: "I signed on this ship to practice medicine, not to have my atoms scattered back and forth across space by this gadget." According to The Making of Star Trek, the transporter was originally a dramatic device used to keep the story moving, eliminating the need to get in and out of the shuttlecraft all the time. People just popped out of one place and into another without wasting any time.

Now the idea of the transporter is being used as a device to measure "the positive utility of travel." Researchers Prasanna Humagain and Patrick Singleton of Utah State University ask, “If you could snap your fingers or blink your eyes and instantaneously teleport yourself to the desired destination, would you do so?” as an alternative to other more conventional modes of transportation.

Teleportation vs driving

Humagain and Singleton/CC BY 2.0

The researchers surveyed 648 people in Portland, Oregon and got very different results, depending on the mode of transport. Apparently people in cars are just interested in getting from A to B, and three-quarters of them would rather have their atoms scattered back and forth across space. Meanwhile, only around a third of those who walk or bicycle would rather use the transporter.

transporter vs keep going graph

Humagain and Singleton/CC BY 2.0

Shown a different way, the people with longer Actual Travel Times like the idea of a Transporter alternative, while the people doing active travel, like walking and cycling have less of a preference. According to SSTI,

Singleton noted that “people seem to value the exercise they get from using active transportation modes for their commutes,” adding that cyclists and pedestrians also report higher levels of mental health associated with their commutes. Pedestrian and cyclist commuters also had more positive responses to questions about confidence, and freedom, independence, and control.
New York Subway

© New York Subway, 3 March 2020, Melissa Breyer

There is possibly another explanation, that people who walk or cycle are like Dr. McCoy, more skeptical about radical new transportation technologies, and tend to shy away from Hyperloops and self-driving cars. Judging by editor Melissa's photo of the New York subway yesterday, I can't imagine anyone not preferring a transporter, yet transit users appear to like the idea less than drivers, so there might be other forces at work here. Then again, the study was done in Portland, Oregon, where they do not have subways like this.

In the end, I prefer Singleton's explanation: people who walk or cycle just enjoy their commutes more and get something out of it.

UPDATE: Cycling historian and writer Carlton Reid covered this story earlier in Forbes.