A generation ago, driving was considered the ultimate freedom in transportation options. If you needed to get somewhere, you’d simply reach for your keys and the hit the road. But nowadays, it comes with less freedom and more constraints - negotiating traffic, designating drivers, finding parking, sitting idle...
Today, as the Millennial generation comes of age, the definition of transportation freedom is changing, as are the ways of getting around and how our choices are perceived. Travel options have become more intuitive. All you need is a smart phone and mobility becomes as simple as selecting an address or destination name and then requesting a ride, tracking a bus or train, or consulting a digital map. Getting around is now navigable at the touch of a screen - all based on our ‘mobility portfolio’, which includes rideshare apps like Lyft, Via and, Uber, bike share, maps, and other transportation apps that help to unlock the mysteries of transit.
A recent Pew Research Center study showed that among the Americans who use transit, 21% were aged between 18 and 24, while only 7% were between ages 50-64, and 4% over the age of 65. Of the Millennials who do use transit, 69% use it several times per week. Millennials are multi-modal people, meaning they aren’t bound to a single means of getting around. They choose the best transportation mode or modes based on the trip they are taking, all enabled by their mobility portfolio. We no longer need to know the route or schedule of the local bus or train to take transit because our phones just tell us where to go.
"Millennials are multi-modal people, they aren’t bound to a single means of getting around. They choose the best option based on the trip they are taking."
So what’s driving this shift? A survey by the American Public Transportation Association of Millenials suggests it’s a pragmatic decision - it’s cheaper to be multi-modal and often more convenient. It also offer the opportunity to multitask. Commuters can use Wi-Fi, text, email, read, and even exercise if our trip includes active transportation like walking, biking, or taking the stairs. But public transit and shared mobility aren’t just practical options, in places like New York City, they’re preferred.
Travel has also become simpler. Technology has made it easier to navigate, especially when tapping into our mobility portfolios, which live in our backpacks and back pockets - our smartphones. Its a tool that provides seemingly endless information on multiple best-route options, travel alerts and updates, estimated arrival times, where and how to make a transfer, and the expected duration of a trip. Like the volume of information available, the options are also seemingly endless. This all equates to transportation freedom - the freedom to choose the easiest, the cheapest, the fastest, the prettiest, the quietest, the greenest route, whatever suits you! We have the freedom to go wherever, whenever, and however we want to.
"Travel has become simpler and easier thanks to technology."
How could we use this freedom and multiple modes to encourage people to explore smarter travel choices in New York City? Could we benefit from exploring alternative routes, modes, and travel times? Could this help us to achieve a faster trip? Or help us to tackle a transportation problem when it arises?
We’d love to hear your thoughts - so why not share your comments here, or better yet submit an idea to the Travel Smarter Challenge!
Sam Schwartz is CEO of Sam Schwartz - a firm that specializes in transportation planning and engineering. He also writes columns on traffic for The New York Daily News, the NY Downtown Express and blogs for Engineering News Record. Previously, Sam was New York City’s Traffic Commissioner and the Chief Engineer of the NYC Department of Transportation. Sam specializes in creative problem-solving for seemingly intractable situations and is expert at getting people out of their cars and into other forms of transportation.