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Thoughts on Transit

Millennials and Why They're the Future of Public Transportation

by Ecolane / September 18, 2015

For generations, turning sixteen years of age meant freedom. The birthday represented a time for teenagers that shouted independence and enabled them to go where they wanted. Times change, though, and that feeling of freedom takes on a slightly different meaning for the segment of young adults known as the Millennials. In a 2013 study, the number of 16-year-olds getting their license had dropped to 73%. That didn’t mean teens weren’t going places, though.  It did mean that they were getting to places differently. 

Millennials represent the generation after Generation X.  Most often, they are defined as being born after 1980 although it’s impossible to define exact years and the word is used loosely.  At any rate, they’re young, they’re plentiful, and they embrace public transportation.  According to an APTA study, 70% of Millenials use multiple transit options to get around town.

With the car ownership rate for people between the ages of 18 – 34 down over 30% compared to generations past, how exactly are these people getting around? While it would be great to see every bus packed to capacity, the reality is Millennials tend to use the most convenient mode of transportation available to them at any given time.

Although the life of a typical Millenial might be as complex as any other generation, their persona can be summed up by their desire for a free lifestyle, a focus on convenience and an embrace of technology that helps them be more efficient.


The cost of living has gone up while wages have been stagnant.  The rise in student loan debt and the still vital college degree has been a double-edged sword.  At a time when cell phones double as computers and cost per month roughly the same as a lease on a small car, something had to give.

At the same time, the appeal for living in urban areas is back in style and as a result, walking, buses, bike sharing, and subways are readily available. On the other hand, parking has become more challenging and even more cost prohibitive.  With the urban renaissance, businesses such as Uber and Lyft have sprung out of nowhere, offering an affordable alternative to taxis and car ownership.

Transportation agencies need to embrace this unexpected competition, because the reality is, just as Millennials aren’t chaining themselves to a specific type of vehicle, they also aren’t loyal to any type of transportation. 


Millennials grew up in a world where they never had to ask questions like ‘who won the World Series in 1957’, their mobile devices tell them as quickly as the question could be asked.  As a result, they certainly aren’t going to stand around wondering if a bus will be as fast as the car sharing service parked right next to them. 

While car ownership was public transportation’s headache in the past, now it’s working as the competition in the public transit arena that agencies are having to deal with. Car2go, Uber, Lyft and Zipcar are becoming even more available everyday forcing traditional transit agencies to face a very different kind of challenge.


Every generation has more advanced technologies  than the generation preceding it.  The smartphone is perhaps the biggest leap forward from one generation to the next and can nearly take full responsibility for why Millennials don’t require cars.  For that segment of the population, smartphones are not just a tool to use, they are an extension of themselves. It has made life so much more efficient than it used to be. 

Just as previous generations hopped into a car without much thought, Millennials tend to order an Uber or check a bus or subway schedule without a second thought.  They often know the best routes, the traffic situation in front of them and the most convenient mode of travel at any given time during the day.

While sixteen used to be the unofficial age of freedom, the ownership of a smartphone and not a driver’s license, is more often used to define that freedom today. Advancements in technology and multiple choices of transportation methods all cater to this extremely large and flexible demographic.  Businesses that understand the importance of convenience and build upon their technology base while also realizing that Millennials are a lifestyle and not a demographic are the ones with a healthy future.  Moving forward, that needs to be catered to in order to build success.

Ecolane Web Intelligence 

Tags: Transit Trends

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