Five Millennial Behaviors Impacting Transportation

The rise of digital technology and online media over the past decade has not only dramatically shaped the way we communicate, but the way we get from Point A to Point B.

When baby boomers and Generation X-ers were coming of age, there were no smartphones, laptops or social networks. Growing up in a vehicle-dependent society, obtaining a driver’s license often served as a rite of passage for these individuals. However, today’s millennials — also known as Generation Y — are choosing to move in very different ways from their baby boomer and Generation X peers.

We know that the millennial generation — which is larger than the baby boomer generation and three times the size of Generation X — use their smartphones heavily, have more “friends” on social networks than anyone could possibly converse with regularly and seek to live in highly populated cities. We also know that this group of individuals relies more on product reviews and endorsements from their friends than any message on an advertisement or marketing campaign.

All of these behavioral trends will be a game changer for America’s transportation network — forcing it to become less dependent on automobiles and placing a higher value on public transit and other modes of transportation, like biking and walking.

It’s essential for Americans to have a thorough understanding of these behavioral trends so we can begin preparing for this shift and ultimately learn to adapt.

Here are the top five ways millennial behavior is impacting transportation:

  1. They desire a multi-modal transportation system. Millennials tend to use more than one mode of transportation in a given journey, commonly referred to as mixed-mode or multi-modal commuting. According to a recent American Public Transportation Association (APTA) report, nearly 70 percent of millennials use multiple ways of getting around a city or suburb, choosing the most practical method of transportation for each trip and using multiple travel options several times a week. About 46 percent of millennials say that the main reason for walking or riding a bike is to save money.
  2. They ride public transit more often. This generation has a reduced dependence on the automobile. Car sharing, bike sharing, walking and car ownership all play a part in the multi-modal network, but public transportation is ranked highest as the best way to connect to other methods of transportation.
  3. They are taking longer to get their license. Millennials’ sense of freedom doesn’t depend on driving as much as it did for previous generations. As public transportation continues to improve, millennials are taking advantage of these lower cost options and opt to spend their money on experiences, rather than costly things like cars.
  4. They like to be connected. A key benefit to public transportation is that you can multitask — such as texting friends while on the way to the office. This tech-savvy generation is the most educated generation in American history, and being constantly connected is just one of the many ways they keep up with an ever-changing world.
  5. They aren’t having as many children. A study by the Frontier Group shows that between the end of World War II and 2004, Americans drove more miles with each passing year. A key factor in this trend was a steady population increase. Today, our population is simply not growing at the same pace, which means that smart transit executives are taking a closer look at their long-term plans.

Every generation has its own set of behaviors and norms. As we look ahead to the future, we can only wonder what changes Generation Z — who will have come of age in an entirely digitally focused world — as well as new driverless technologies that cater to these always-connected and mobile individuals, will bring to our industry.

Parker Williams is senior vice president, Transportation Solutions with Xerox.