For years, we have been saying that millennials like transit because they can use their phones while they get from A to B; According to a new study, Who's on Board from TransitCenter, that's not quite accurate.
...despite all the ballyhoo about young people being attracted to transit because of smartphones and apps, it turns out they think the most important attraction of transit is its reliability and speed. They prioritize having a bus that comes frequently over an app that tells them it’s coming in an hour.
The study is a fascinating snapshot of who is taking transit, with some surprising results. The racial divide is pretty shocking, with 10% of white people using the bus at least once a week and only 5% commuting by transit.
The transit use by income is less shocking, demonstrating that transit use is almost perfectly inversely proportional to income, with the exception of a spike among the very rich.
By far the most interesting part of the study is the effect of the type of neighborhood people live in, and in fact how many people wish they lived differently. Fully half of the people who live in car-dominated suburbs wish they didn't have to drive everywhere.
Suburban, residential neighborhoods are the most common type of neighborhood that respondents live in, but mixed-use suburban neighborhoods (with a mix of housing, shops, and businesses) are the most desired. In fact, there is unmet demand for mixed-use urban, suburban, and small-town neighborhoods across all age groups. In short, while not all Americans want to move into inner cities, there is widespread demand for walkable cities, suburbs, and towns with more variety of residential and retail.
Chris Leinberger saw the significance of this point in his comment:
Denser, mixed-use places are what most Americans want today, and will demand tomorrow. High-quality transit can serve as a backbone for exactly this kind of development. While cities and suburbs that marry transit and mixed-use development reap the rewards, those that stick with a conventional suburban approach may find themselves stagnating.
So the streetcar suburbs designed a hundred years ago prove to still be the most desirable model for most people. Meanwhile, those baby boomers that appear to be totally in love with their cars are going to find themselves in big trouble when their kids take the keys away.
The Baby Boomers, meanwhile, are very suburban and very accustomed to driving. As members of that generation age, transporting them presents a serious challenge. What is to become of a senior who can no longer drive but has no access to quality public transportation? A storm may be coming for suburban transit providers.
This storm is coming soon.