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 iseptaphilly.com 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 iseptaphilly.com 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.
Seeing a canine passenger on mass transit is not uncommon, but the reasons why a dog might catch the train or hop a bus are varied (remember Eclipse, the Seattle Lab mix that uses the bus, often on her own, to get to the dog park?). Most public transit pooches are working —as K-9 officers or service animals. In the Philadelphia region, other animals — in approved carriers only—are permitted to ride the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s buses, trains and trolleys. However, a new pilot program underway by SEPTA allows registered therapy dogs volunteering at two Philadelphia hospitals to use two designated bus routes to travel to their sites.
To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.
The Uber website proudly states that, “Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 200 cities today, Uber's rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.” Such hype is common on corporate websites, but when the braggadocio is backed up by an article in the Wall Street Journal that discloses a valuation of $41 billion their ambitious words take on relevance.
As the world changes with the rapid advancement of connected devices and technologies, so must the transportation industry. In a business area where change is sluggish, DOTs across the country must adapt quickly to the evolving technologies that are going to impact their operations and budget. There are at least three technologies that will have immense impact over the next two decades on how we travel and how state transportation departments react to provide mobility — connectedness, big data and automation.
Around the world, artwork of all forms adorns transportation centers, stations and bus shelters. While many of these statues, paintings, mosaics and sculptures are permanently installed as part of a station’s architecture, transportation organizations can use their spaces for art exhibitions that not only make transit hubs more aesthetically pleasing for commuters, but also inspire budding artists. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) recently partnered with two organizations to showcase the artistic talent of youth from the Greater Philadelphia region and around the world.