New survey tracks Americans’ attitudes towards transit use

Key factors include the neighborhoods they live in, their ages, and the efficiency of their local systems.

October 03, 2014 |
Photo: James G. Howes via Wikimedia Commons

A record 10.7 billion rides were taken on public transit in the United States last year. And a national survey of Americans finds that the speed, reliability, and cost, more than any other factors, determine people’s willingness and frequency of use.

The survey of 11,842 adults in 46 Metropolitan Statistical Areas, 60% of whom live in “transit progressive” cities, also found that far more Americans want to live in mixed-use, walkable communities than actually do.

“That’s significant news, not just for planners, but for the real estate industry as well,” wrote David Bragdon, executive director of TransitCenter, a New York-based public policy and advocacy organization, which conducted the poll.

Bragdon asserted that, unlike other public utilities, mass transit is “personal,” and that receptivity to using mass transit is highly dependent on riders’ relationships with it in such areas as efficiency, cleanliness, proximity to stations, and how quickly they get to their destinations. 

TransitCenter concluded that transit use is, ultimately, attitudinal. But this inference is a little quirky. Baby boomers who grew up in an era of mass-transit expansion are now far more resistant to using these systems than Millennials who “embrace” mass transit, said the survey. 


Graphs courtesy TransitCenter


If you’re an ethnic minority, you are more likely to be a transit rider. Nearly two-fifths of African-Americans polled use mass transit at least once a week, and 22% use it three or four times a week. More than 30% of Hispanics ride buses and trains once a week, and one-fifth use these modes three or four times weekly. In contrast, only 10% of whites ride mass transit weekly, and only 5% use these modes more frequently.

The survey also found correlations between usage and income: high-income Americans are not big riders.  

Some perceptions about transit use get debunked: for example, just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean you use transit systems less, although the survey found that parents aged 30 or younger are more positively inclined towards mass transit than older parents. 

Students are frequent riders, but higher education is not much of a determining factor about who uses transit systems. That being said, a neighborhood’s employment rate certainly has a positive impact on rider frequency, and the survey found that employees are using transit benefits when their employers offer them.

The top predictor of use, according to the survey, is what kind of neighborhood the person lives in. While most respondents don’t seem to be clamoring to move back into their cities’ core, “many Americans are looking for something different” from their current living environments, Bragdon said. TransitCenter, in fact, sees “widespread demand” for walkable communities, even though most of the respondents aren’t living in these currently.




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