Millennials are a very different breed than Baby Boomers. As an example, Baby Boomers are likely to decompress upon arrival at a hotel room. In contrast, Millennials—typically defined as 18 to 34 year olds—are more prone to immediately access in-room WiFi. Online connectivity is a must-have for these younger travelers, who prefer to share travel stories on the go. Likewise, they expect instant gratification, accurate booking, and one-stop shopping, all from their handheld devices.
This up-and-coming generation is shaping the future of public transit. The 95 million Millennials in the U.S. will make up the bulk of the country’s workforce by 2025. Cities that hope to attract vibrant, young talent will need to cater to Millennials’ preferences—including their predilection for effective transit. A recent national survey found that 66% of Millennials included high quality transportation as a crucial factor in deciding where to live. That support for public transportation stems in part from the fact that Millennials are the most educated generation ever. Those with college degrees generally appreciate the conceptual reasons for maintaining strong transit, including serving under-resourced populations. Moreover, Millennials carry an average of $23,000 debt per person, so they are more willing than Baby Boomers to forgo car ownership. Their attraction to urban car-free lifestyles over suburban car commutes also supports transit.
Another clear trend among Millennials is their fondness for technology. Portland’s DHM Research has found that 47% of Millennials wouldn’t willingly give up their phones. Apps that marry convenience with on-the-go access are popular among this age bracket. For transit agencies, this means apps that allow riders to buy and redeem fares on their phones. Such public transit mobile WiFi technology also benefits transit agencies, who are able to track multiple data, such as real-time ridership statistics, for real-time capacity adjustments. With mobile WiFi hotspots providing Internet for public transit vehicles, agencies can create an interconnected web of service, with every vehicle perennially connected to management hubs. (For more information, check out SinglePoint Communications’ in-vehicle connectivity solutions.)
In general, Millennials are multimodal; they select the best transit option for each trip. Biking and walking are on the list of urban Millennials’ transit options. To understand how this might be impacting transit, let’s take a look at a case study: Philadelphia’s SEPTA transit system. While the American Public Transportation Association’s 2014 ridership report found increased national ridership, Philadelphia’s transit system actually saw a slight decrease of 2% last year. In Philly, trolley ridership fell by 4%, and bus ridership was down 3% in 2014. Commuter rail ridership increased 2%. These statistics could be due to the fact that more and more Philly Millennials are bike commuting into the city center. Center City reports that bike commuting into Philadelphia has increased 33.4% from 2012 to 2014.
Fortunately, SEPTA ridership is up more recently, according to system reports. SEPTA has found a 1.3% increase in ridership over the first seven months of the 2015 fiscal year. That bump appears to be driven by regional rail (up 3.8%) and suburban transit (up 3.2%). So far, city transit is up just .6%.
To achieve ongoing ridership increases, we recommend that SEPTA and other urban transit groups add public transit mobile WiFi. Given Millennials’ hunger to stay forever online, WiFi access on buses and trains can only add public transit appeal. Moreover, those who have longer commutes into the city will be more likely to ditch their cars if they can access WiFi on the way.