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Study ranks Baltimore among top 25 cities for tech-driven transportation tools

New technologies are expanding transportation options across the United States, and Baltimore ranks among the top 25 cities taking advantage of the trend, according to a study released Wednesday by Maryland PIRG.

"Most of these options didn't even exist until a few years ago, and the trend is just beginning," said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr in a statement.

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The "Innovative Transportation Index" report, billed by the organization as the first of its kind, ranked Baltimore 24th among 70 major American cities "where new technologies and tools can reduce your need to own a car."

The rankings were based on a review of 11 categories of services, from ride-sharing to real-time transit information. Baltimore offers seven of the services in some capacity, with the study citing well-known services like Uber and Zipcar but also lesser-known options like the peer-to-peer carsharing service RelayRides.

"Maryland PIRG applauds Baltimore and the other cities in this report for helping to bring new transportation technology choices," Scarr said. "These new options will help define city life in the years to come."

Maryland PIRG, a consumer and "good government" advocacy organization, has pushed for transit and alternative transportation models over highway investments in recent years. The study was conducted by the Frontier Group, a research and analysis firm.

The study also points out gaps in transportation technology in Baltimore, including the city's lack of a bikesharing program and its lack of a mobile app for tracking public buses in real time. Both services have been proposed.

The Maryland Transit Administration promised a real-time bus tracking app would be forthcoming last year, but that hasn't happened and officials have not answered recent questions about the status of the app.

Some real-time data is available in Baltimore through the private NextBus service.

Baltimore also lacks virtual ticketing from the MTA, ridesharing services such as Zimride and Carma, and a one-way carsharing service like Car2Go, the study found. ZipCar is considered a "two-way" service.

The new study, Maryland PIRG said, "calls on policy-makers and elected officials to explore ways to tap the potential of technology-enabled services to address transportation challenges and increase the number of people with the option to live car-free or car-light lifestyles."

Nationwide, the top ranked city was Austin, Texas, which had options in all 11 service categories, the study found. In second was San Francisco, a tech hub and home to Uber, while the District of Columbia, Baltimore's neighbor to the south, ranked third. Both offered services in 10 of the 11 categories.

In all, 19 cities had "Abundant Choices," with services in 8 or more categories, the study found.

Another 35 cities had "Growing Choices," with services in between 5 and 7 of the categories. Leading the category with 7 services, Maryland PIRG said, were Baltimore as well as Orlando, Atlanta, Louisville, St. Louis, Cleveland, Kansas City, Newark, Pittsburgh and Raleigh.

The remaining cities, with "Emerging Choices," offered services in 4 or fewer of the categories.

In addition to ranking cities, the study also came to several conclusions about the value of new transportation technologies for city residents.

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For instance, the study found regular users of public transit benefit from other technology options at "times when riding the bus or train wouldn't be convenient."

It also found younger city residents and "Millennials" in particular value tech-driven transportation services.

Maryland PIRG in previous studies has pointed to declining interest among young Americans in owning and driving cars, and suggests in the new report that new transportation technologies are helping them leave vehicles behind.

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