Courting the next generation of transit riders

Posted on June 13, 2012 by Heather Redfern - Also by this author

What had been a rite of passage for young people — getting a driver’s license — isn’t as high a priority as it once was. According to a recent study by the Frontier Group and the United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, the percentage of people between the ages of 20 and 34 without a license increased more than 5% (from 10.4% to 15.7%) from 2000 to 2010.

And, as the number of license-less people rose, the idea of living in an area with access to public transportation grew for people within that age range. A 2011 survey by the Urban Land institute found that those in between the ages of 18 and 29 were “at least 25% more likely than older populations to highly value having bus routes and rail lines within walking distance of their homes.”  

Younger people are heading to urban areas where they can easily hop on a bus, train or trolley. In Philadelphia, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ 2012 update to last year’s “State of the City” study found that from 2000-2010, the number of people between the ages of 20 to 34 living in the city increased by 50,300 people over the previous decade.

Some members of “Generation Y” moving to Philadelphia from the suburbs for school and work may have never taken public transportation. This spring, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) began courting this next generation of riders. Focus groups that SEPTA conducted with individuals in the coveted 18 to 34 age range identified topics such as safety, cleanliness, ease of use and affordability as issues that most concern younger customers. But instead of SEPTA telling potential customers why they should ride, the agency let their peers do the talking.

In the “I SEPTA Philly” campaign’s commercials, current riders between the ages of 18 to 34 talk unscripted about using the system and the issues raised in the focus groups. The accompanying website, Internet and radio advertising, and social media initiatives are geared to make younger, new riders feel more comfortable with using SEPTA. The idea is to make SEPTA a verb in the Generation Y vocabulary — “I SEPTA to the restaurant”; “I SEPTA to the ballpark”; “I SEPTA to the concert.”
The agency is also asking riders to populate the campaign’s website themselves by submitting their own public transit stories — experiences riding the system, anecdotes about public transportation or tips for new riders. Customers can film and upload their own clips or record one at a variety of events held throughout Philadelphia over the summer. The best submissions will be entered in a contest to win prizes ranging from SEPTA passes and concert tickets to a trip to Las Vegas.

Customers always have SEPTA stories and feedback to share, whether it be a positive experience, constructive criticism or an idea on how to make the system easier to navigate. The website and the contest provide riders with a new platform for telling others about SEPTA and public transit — a platform that is built for the next generation.

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