Why Transit Agencies Should Woo “Bohemian Boomers” and “Metro Moms”

Transit use varies tremendously by age, but not so much by geography. Graphic courtesy TransitCenter.
Transit use varies tremendously by age, but not so much by the region people inhabit. Maps: TransitCenter

A new national survey released today by TransitCenter seeks to understand not just the who, but also the why, of Americans’ increasing transit use. The survey found that Americans’ feelings towards transit and cities vary considerably by age, personal values, and whether transit provides a feasible travel option in their neighborhoods. Factors that don’t have much of an effect on transit use include having children at home, education level, having very high incomes, and the region of the country people inhabit.

The survey also identified several individual factors strongly linked to transit use. Residents of dense, transit-friendly environment, people with jobs or enrolled in school, people of color, low-income Americans, and people with access to high-quality transit are all more likely to ride transit, echoing previous survey findings.

The TransitCenter survey goes beyond prior research by trying to understand personal characteristics that might motivate transit use. Transit users are likely to have grown up in neighborhoods with convenient transit, to be open to new things and experiences, and to want to remain productive while traveling. These motivations are almost as strong as more basic motivations, like relying on transit because no other options are available.

transitcenter poll

The survey also reinforces prior research into the kinds of neighborhoods Americans want, finding that Americans generally want a blend of space and walkability, and that there are significant mismatches between the types of places people would like to live, and the places they actually call home. Only 37 percent of respondents who live in suburban residential areas preferred that type of neighborhood, for instance, and only 28 percent of them wanted to live in such a neighborhood as children. Almost half of all respondents (48 percent) wanted to live in mixed-use suburban or small town areas, and more than half of people who live in those areas are satisfied with their locations.

Generations differed sharply in their responses, with 62 percent of people under 30 preferring urban or walkable suburban environments compared to 44 percent of people over 30 who said the same. Interestingly, this is even though millennials were raised in comparatively un-walkable settings: Just 52 percent of respondents under 30 said they could walk or bike to retail shops as children, compared to 69 percent of respondents over 60.

transitcenter poll
A cluster analysis found that while some metropolitan residents are “Devoted Drivers,” the “Bohemian Boomers,” “Willing and Waiting,” and “Metro Moms and Dads” exhibit attitudes towards the environment and sociability that indicate they might be amenable to riding transit more frequently.

The survey digs deeper than previous research to unearth the attitudes that underlie differences in travel behavior. While some “clusters” of suburban residents show little interest in using transit, the survey also identified segments of urban and suburban residents, comprising 43 percent of all respondents, whose attitudes indicate that they might try transit more frequently. The demographic clusters TransitCenter identifies as “Bohemian Boomers,” “Willing and Waiting,” and “Metro Moms and Dads” display attitudes consistent with a greater propensity to ride transit.

transitcenter poll
Groups of factors explain much of why some people ride transit more often.

Notably, the survey found that where people live and why they chose to live there have a greater impact on transit ridership than people’s attitudes toward transit or driving. In other words, it’s how people view the urban environment, more than the transportation mode itself, that leads them to ride transit or drive cars.

Understanding these sorts of variables isn’t just important for understanding the people with you on the train. They’re also important for targeting voters for transit ballot measures, understanding the types of neighborhoods that will embrace transit, and helping transit systems better market their services.

The survey aimed to include statistically valid sample sizes for different regions of the country, three age groups (under 30, 30 to 60, and over 60), and across 46 metropolitan areas which have transit systems that are either extensive (e.g., Charlotte, Madison, Portland, Salt Lake City) or limited (e.g., Albuquerque, Fresno, Indianapolis, Richmond). All told, it included 11,846 responses.

  • Bobberooni

    Interesting that people almost uniformly prefer living near shops and businesses, vs. living in a residential-only area. Only problem is… shops and businesses require a concentration of people, and only a portion of people can live near them. It is never realistic to expect a large fraction of people to live in suburban locations near shops and businesses. Even in a hi-rise environment, some people (those on upper floors) live further away from shops and businesses than others (those on lower floors). And the more downscale the neighborhood is, the less money people spend around, which leads to even fewer shops and businesses.

    I do think it makes sense to develop small “downtowns” with concentrated housing, shops and businesses, surrounded by less-dense residential areas. This will allow the maximum number of people to live close to these amenities. But I suppose that’s what New Urbanists have already figured out.

    One thing would be interesting to see, is how many people value being close to big box shopping. Actually, two categories: big box supermarkets (frequented weekly or more frequently), and big box other (frequented less often). Although it doesn’t have the same aesthetic appeal as a corner grocer, I have always valued living near to a full-service supermarket.

  • carma

    i guess i belong to those metro mom & dad category. although my commute has probably everybody beat. i drive, bus, train, run, citibike and take a ferry all in one commute cycle.

    short of an airplane, i think i covered every form of transportation.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I’m 100% with you here. Urban and suburban density (is the latter an oxymoron?) is key to getting shops within reach of residents. In Downtown Los Angeles, Kroger built a Ralphs Fresh Fare market on the ground floor of a new condo complex. That market is always *packed* and has proven to be a great location for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop to conduct their cookie and (the uninventively named) “fall product” sales.

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