Transit Thursday: The Age of the Selfie

selfie2

The numbers are in, folks! According to a Triangle J Council of Governments of report, the Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program in the Triangle had the following impact in fiscal year 2013:

  • Reduced 237,412 daily commute miles traveled, which is the equivalent to a trip to the moon every day.
  • Saved nearly 2.5 million gallons of gasoline in FY13 and eliminated 22,225 metric tons of carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) emissions, which is equivalent to removing 4,679 passenger cars.
  • Encouraged 27,470 new alternative transportation users—that’s about the same as the population of Garner, N.C.

These increases in ridership aren’t only in the Triangle. The overall use of public transportation in the US has reached its greatest high since 1956. During 2013, 10.65 billion trips were taken on transit systems compared to the previous peak of 10.59 billion in 2008 (NYTimes.com). And who’s taking these  10.65 billion trips? Although exact demographics of the 2013 ridership weren’t available, they doubtlessly included a generation of millennials and digital natives. In a generation of over 80 million, nearly 70 percent of them (people currently ages 18 to 34) use public transportation to get around. So why aren’t they getting behind the wheel instead?

Jill Hennessy, clinical professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, explained to NPR, “When we’ve talked to millennials, they actually answer that question quite thoughtfully. While they do still want to own a car — not as much as they want to own a smartphone, by the way, that’s the physical possession they’re most attached to — they are thinking about, ‘Do I need a car or not?’ in a way that I think five years ago or 10 years ago we wouldn’t have seen to the same extent” (NPR.org).

Thoughtfully, indeed. Just like their motivations to take a selfie, millennials appear to be choosing public transportation for a host of reasons interwoven into their personal identity. Some ditch the car for monetary well-being (46% of millennials use public transportation as a way to save money) while others do so for individual wellness (44% want the additional exercise). Additionally, 46% prefer public transportation for convenience and more than one third say “they live in a community where it just makes more sense to use transit” (Millenials & Mobility APTA Report).

Not only are millennials opting for available public transportation, they’re actively moving to said communities in search of it and avoiding others. A previous GoTriangle blog post, “The Day We Became Atlanta,” referenced an interview between the News & Observer and Citrix vice president Jesse Lipson. At the time, Lipson was focused on expanding the Citrix payroll and office space in downtown Raleigh, but finding it difficult to hire a younger generation of workers. “They’re interested in things like living close to work, walking to work, biking to work, taking the bus – and taking trains a lot more than most people do,” Lipson said. He understood the growing reality: more transportation options in the Triangle, including the Durham-Orange Light Rail, meant more employees (News&Observer.com).

The reality is also this: I began by referring to millennials as “they,” but they are also me. I’m a millennial, and although my current living situation requires me to drive most days, I’m researching places near park & rides and direct bus routes for my next move. I’ve lived in Washington DC and commuted daily on the Metro, not because I didn’t have a car, but because I wanted to. I’m part of a generation that’s made the front cover of TIME magazine. You probably know us well – we’re narcissistic, fame-obsessed, and still living with our moms. But the same article that landed us on the front cover also referred to us as “earnest and optimistic” and a generation that could be “a great force for positive change.” Transit Thursday is about positivity, and millennials are a great force for positive change. Seventy percent of us out of 80 million – that’s 56 million – are choosing public transportation over our cars. The thousands of us that live and work here in the Triangle contribute to the statistics I introduced at the beginning of this post.

Even if you’re not a millennial, if you live in the Triangle, we also have you to thank for saved gas and car miles. By taking alternative transportation, you’re helping to reduce negative impacts on the environment and reducing traffic during the Fortify Project. You may not have gone completely carless like John, but you’re making the Triangle a little greener and your commute a little easier. You’re choosing every day to make a change, and we can continue to do so together.

But first, let me take a selfie.

– Grace

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