Internet-based "virtual mobility" could be a solution to the growing problem of social exclusion caused by lack of transport.
Researchers at the University of Southampton have set up a qualitative study with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
This week they interviewed elderly people about how lack of transport affects their lives and how they would feel about using the internet. They will also interview lone parents, 16-year-olds and poor and ethnic minority groups.
Researcher Susan Kenyon said many people simply could not travel and the government was also seeking to minimise the increase in traffic for environmental and cost reasons.
She said: "We have an increasing number of ageing people, and more people, including the young, are moving out to the suburbs and rural areas.
"It is possible to identify a number of ways in which a lack of adequate transport can contribute towards social exclusion. Perhaps people are unable to travel to job interviews or to the job itself because of transport problems.
"It may be that accessing healthcare and other social services is a problem. Socially, people can become very isolated and lonely if their transport options are limited. If people could use the internet to access information about jobs, healthcare or their friends and family, their exclusion might be reduced."
The research team, at the university's transportation research group and Centre for Human Service Technology, will look at the ways in which people are already using the internet as a substitute for physical travel. This could be by keeping in touch with friends and family online, making new friends over the web, as well as buying goods, selling a house, completing a course, or finding a job online.
"Cost of access is a big issue but there are a number of government initiatives in this area," Ms Kenyon said. "While virtual mobility won't alleviate all need for physical travel, it could create greater opportunities for access where travel is not possible."
The team wants to widen the study through personal contributions. "We would love to hear about how people use the internet. (This) could highlight new ways in which access could help to alleviate some forms of social exclusion, strengthening the case for ensuring access for all."
The team can be contacted through the website at www.trg.soton.ac.uk/vm or telephone 023 8059 2834.