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Samantha Beckerman’s Blog

Access over Ownership: Millennials and Public Transportation

Samantha Beckerman

Posted January 17, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming, The Media and the Environment

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I grew up in Montclair, New Jersey a suburb 12 miles west of Manhattan and when my mom and dad (born and raised in Manhattan and Queens, respectively) made the move to Montclair they chose a house with a bus stop 50 feet from the door. Access to public transportation into Manhattan was as important to them as the size of their new home’s kitchen, the number of bedrooms and whether the basement tended to flood. Twenty-two years later I considered the same exact factors as I made the move from Montclair to Washington, D.C. For over a month, the majority of my time online was spent on Craigslist searching for the perfect group house or apartment to move into. The ads that stuck out most to me were those that bragged about the house’s close proximity to bus lines and metro stops as well as its walk-score of 90 or higher with supermarkets, restaurants and bars just around the corner. The vast majority of ads that highlighted these types of public transportation options made it clear that it wasn’t just me who found them to be important.

Transportation for America, along with a public opinion research and strategy firm pulled together existing data on Millennial demographics, attitudes and values to better understand how the Millennial generation feels about public transportation and sound transportation policy. Their results made it clear that my generation, the Millennials (those Americans who came into adulthood in the new century) want more access to public transportation and support local governments in expanding and improving public transportation options.  Below are some highlights from their research that I found to be especially important.

  • Millennials are one-quarter of the U.S. population with an ethnically and socio-economically diverse background. Millennials represent more than one-quarter of the population of many states, including D.C. We tend to be politically progressive and by a three-to-one margin think we should make investments now to invent the next generation of clean-energy solutions rather than continue on the current path. There is power in numbers and the ability to join together and speak up on issues Millennials are passionate about allows us to impact policy on public transportation, sustainable communities and clean energy.
  • Millennials are distinguished by a high-degree of engagement with technology, with 75% having a profile on a social networking site and many saying that technology use is what makes our generation unique. Marnie Primmer, executive director of Mobility 21, an Irvine-based South Carolina transportation advocacy coalition, points out that private companies like RideAmigos.com have created carpooling, ride-sharing and taxi-sharing phone apps. In DC alone, there are over half a dozen apps that track real time arrivals of metro trains and busses. I use TransitTimes+, a public transit trip planning app with maps, timetables, service alerts and real-time arrivals. These apps fit well with the Millennial lifestyle of always being plugged in. 

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My sisters and I busy on our iPhones. 

  • Millennials prefer to live in a community with a mix-type of residences where their neighborhood has a mix of houses, apartments, townhouses, stores and other businesses that are easy to walk to. It comes as no surprise then that Millennials say they prefer urban living with seventy-seven percent saying they want to live in an urban core, according to a 2012 study by RCLCO, a land-use economics firm in Washington, D.C.
  • Millennials are more likely than others to want more transit and less driving. In New York Times contributor Jim Motavalli’s blog, he analyzes Zipcar’s new poll that finds that a majority of 18- to 34-year-olds would like to drive even less than they do now (which isn’t much). Motavalli points out that in 1978 three quarters of 17 year-olds had licenses (and nearly half of 16-year-olds). But by 2008, that percentage had dropped to 49 percent (17-year-olds) and 31 percent (16-year-olds). Further, the share of vehicle miles traveled by drivers 21 to 30 fell to 13.7 percent in 2009, from 20.8 percent in 1995, reports the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey. Check out this image below that shows Millennials are more likely than others to want more transit and less driving. 

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Slide from Transportation for America’s Millennials and Transportation PowerPoint.

I am lucky enough to live in one of the top cities for transit and walkability in the U.S. A variety of factors including money, environmental concerns, and cultural norms have led me and the Millennial generation to want more public transportation. According to the Zipcar survey “Millennials are increasingly embracing access over ownership”. It is time that our national, state and local governments acknowledge this and work together to implement sound transportation policy that allows all members of society to have access to a variety of safe, affordable and environmentally responsible transportation options. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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