Who Rides? Pro-Transit Sentiment Takes a Back Seat to Service Level

As past chairman of APTA’s marketing and communications committee, and current member of its Transportation Cooperative Research Program J-01 Dissemination Panel, I was intrigued by findings published in the TCRP Research Report 201: Understanding Changes in Demographics, Preferences, and Markets for Public Transportation.

The most interesting to me was the assertion that, when it comes to actual ridership,  transit-level-of-service is more important than having a population that is pro-transit.

As a finding of fact, I get it and can appreciate it: better overall service creates riders of us all –– even if we aren’t necessarily pro-transit. It’s a key insight and important finding for our operations teams to take heed. However, as a marketer, I believe it does not diminish the need to foster community advocacy nor de-value the benefits of a pro-transit citizenry whether they actually ride or not. Robust service and a pro-transit sentiment is the best-case scenario for which we all can strive.

This study created a new method that examines three forces (demographics, geographics, and psychographics) in influencing transit markets simultaneously in an integrated process.

The results of the new model help us to understand how market preference variation relates to transit choices and concludes that a mix of factors interact with and ultimately drive transit ridership. An individual’s demographics affect their long-term values, their current attitudes, and the type of neighborhood they live in. Each of these factors also affects their likelihood to ride transit.

It also explores the implications of demographics shift in age. In 20 years, today’s Millennials we’ll be 35-55 years of age. Report 201 also explores the market behavior of the current population group under 35, with particular focus to how their behavior towards public transportation will change as they age, and explores proactive policies that should be developed to deal with this outcome. You can download this report FREE, here.