Public-Transportation Attitudes Examined in Major New TransitCenter Report

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Americans took a record 10.7 billion rides on U.S. transit systems in 2013. Who exactly were these riders, and why did they choose public transit over other options?

A major report released today offers the latest and most comprehensive answers to this question of “changing attitudes … propelling recent ridership increases.”

TC coverIn Who’s On Board: The 2014 Mobility Attitudes Survey, New York-based research-and-innovation foundation TransitCenter has pieced together an array of insights providing data that could help propel public transportation in America to new heights.

Mobility Lab has a comprehensive package of articles to dissect the findings, including:

Aside from those articles, there are some other key findings worth mentioning up front.

Americans with high incomes don’t ride transit at the rate of people with lower incomes. That said, it’s not that rich people don’t want to ride public transportation. In transit-rich “traditional cities” like New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Chicago, people with a $150,000 or greater salary are just as likely to ride public transportation as people with a $30,000 salary.

Nevertheless, it appears transit can be a great equalizer in a country with such a large and problematic income gap. The report notes:

While transit ridership generally falls with increasing income, those in the highest income category ($150,000+ in annual household income) are more likely to use transit than those in all but the lowest income group. Very high-income people are more likely to live in large and dense cities, where transit is a more viable option; their location, rather than mere personal preference for public transportation explains why some wealthy people are more likely to use transit.

People stop riding public transportation after their college years. Why is that? It seems those would be the years – during their 20s – when cost savings on transportation would be important.

What does this say about the cost benefits of owning a car versus depending on public transportation or some other modes of travel? Is transit too inexpensive? Is car ownership to inexpensive?

People who are offered pre-tax transit commuter benefits by their employers are more than five times as likely to take transit regularly as employees who are not receiving benefits.

This seems to be a prime argument for improving awareness. Since the Industrial Revolution, Americans have been sleepwalking out their doors, down their driveways, and into their cars. We just don’t think about the fact that transportation options exist. But once employees are educated – or when benefits are simply mentioned – there becomes an amazing boost in curiosity or interest in public transportation.

The Who’s on Board survey was commissioned to take a “deeper look at the public attitudes which are propelling recent increases in transit ridership,” said Rosemary Scanlon, chair of TransitCenter and divisional dean of New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.

The report is based on a survey administered online to 11,842 respondents, in 46 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) who were selected and invited to participate based on age and geography (by home ZIP code). The survey will be updated and conducted regularly to track changes in transit rider attitudes and regional trends over time.

Transit Center has also designed their questionnaire to be used by others, especially governments interested in replicating it for their own more frequent household surveys.

Photo by Erin Nekervis

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