Keep an Eye on Gen Y

Generation Y: The millennials. Born between 1979 and 1995, these 18 to 34-year-olds who, like every generation before them, see things a little differently than their predecessors. Baby boomers drove out to the suburbs in the 1960s and ‘70s and kept on driving to nearly all of their daily activities. Now Gen Y is moving back to cities for the urban lifestyle of convenient shopping, dining and offices. This is a generation that will shape the future by depending far less on the automobile for mobility, turning instead to walking, biking and transit.

Over the past decade, transit use among Gen Y has risen 40 percent. According to a new report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI), “America in 2013: A ULI Survey on Views on Housing, Transportation, and Community,” 63 percent of Gen Y respondents indicated they plan to move in the next five years. Numbering about 100 million in the United States, this is a massive wave heading toward cities and the transit systems that serve them.

What are the policy implications of this trend? Of all respondents to the survey, 75 percent — which included Gen X, Gen Y and baby boomers with access to public transportation — rated the quality of public transportation as satisfactory and 52 percent said convenient public transportation is important to them. Customers will expect technologies in transit to keep pace with developments they experience elsewhere: mobile everything, fast data access, clear signage, eco-friendly propulsion, comfort and dependability. To keep riders satisfied will require dedicated funding not dependent on fuel taxes to continually maintain and improve our systems. This means politicians crafting policies that address newtransportation realities while continuing to provide for their road builder supporters. That’s a tough challenge, but the new reality is that vehicle miles traveled per year after six decades of increases is now declining.

The car is far from becoming obsolete. Most people use them and will continue to do so. But when given a choice — because of smart urban planning and a commitment to a strong transit system — younger people, those most mobile, prefer to leave the driving to the professionals. This is a cohort that watches television everywhere but on a television, why would we expect them to choose the same car and housing options of the last generation.