Millennials’ Transit Needs

What do customers born after 1980 (the “millennial generation”) need from public transit?  To find out, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been studying this new generation of riders, according to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times (July 23).  For one thing, they take efficient transit for granted: they have no experience of the bad old days 40 years ago when New York transit was graffiti-ridden, dirty, dangerous, and breakdown-prone.  Today, they expect things to work, and demand technology, such as next-train-clocks at every station, Wi-Fi access and, yes, 24-hour service, which is bad news for the MTA’s programs of shutting down subway lines at night for maintenance projects.  MTA is responding to the perceived needs, planning to have “real-time-information-displays” (i.e., countdown clocks) in all subway stations by 2020, and has already wired some subway stations for Wi-Fi; smartphone apps can already provide next-train information—if the phone can get service, of course.

Peak Miles: Young Americans Drive Less

While energy experts worry that world production of oil has already peaked—”peak oil”—a different phenomenon may eventually require less oil in the U.S.: younger Americans are driving less, according to reporting by John Schwartz in The New York Times (May 14).  The main source is a report by the U.S. advocacy group U.S. PIRG; author Phineas Baxandall said that the changes don’t appear to be related to economic recession and seem to be part of changing demographics: “Millennials aren’t driving driving cars,” he said.

Research by Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan found that young people are getting driver’s licenses in smaller numbers than in previous generations; simultaneously, baby boomers are aging out of the workforce and therefore driving less.  The Michigan study found that less driving is correlated with increased Internet use, suggesting that younger Americans are spending more time in front of the computer and less behind the wheel. The Times article focused on experiences in Charlotte, N.C., home of a new light-rail system.  One young worker decided to switch to public transit after visiting New York, but reports that riding the bus is less socially acceptable in Charlotte: riders look askance at those wearing office attire, sometimes wondering if the officeworker’s driver’s license has been suspended, perhaps for D.U.I.  In Charlotte, the light-rail line was supposed to reach a goal of 12,000 riders in 7 to 10 years, but hit the target in the first 6 weeks.  President Obama has nominated the city’s mayor, Anthony R. Foxx, to be the next Secretary of Transportation.

However, other transportation pundits said the change in habits might only be temporary, caused by high unemployment; once the younger generation acquires enough money, they may well move to the suburbs and need to drive.  Also, cars that drive themselves, a distinct possibility in the future, might attract more drivers, including elderly individuals who might otherwise give up driving.