Engaging Young Riders is Key to Transit’s Continued Growth

Posted on November 20, 2014 by Heather Redfern - Also by this author

Riders on SEPTA's Market-Frankford Line. Photos courtesy SEPTA
Riders on SEPTA's Market-Frankford Line. Photos courtesy SEPTA
Over the last 10 years, Americans have been driving less — and turning to public transportation more, according to the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). The organization also reports in its recently released “Millennials in Motion” study that the number of younger people getting drivers’ licenses has continually declined since 1996 and that adults between the ages of 20 to 30 are more likely to stay in cities rather than move to suburbs. This data, then, would indicate that the millennial generation (the largest generation) is a major contributor to the surge in ridership transportation organizations across the country are experiencing.    

With young people using public transit more often, it would be prudent for transportation organizations to seek the input from the millennial demographic. “Philadelphia is a college town, with young adults from around the world coming here to study at our region’s many academic institutions,” said Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) GM Joseph Casey. “Many of these students stay in the area after they graduate. SEPTA wants to make them lifelong riders of our system and has made an effort to reach out to this group, showing them that mass transit can be used for more than just their commute to work and home. They can also use it to navigate our region.”

RELATED: Majority of millennials want access to better transit options

In 2009, SEPTA established its Youth Advisory Council (YAC) — the first (and possibly the only) such group created by a transit organization that invites young people to offer their input and work with a public transportation company. The YAC is composed of young riders in SEPTA’s five-county service area between the ages of 14 and 22. “The role of the YAC is to advocate the interest and needs of students, to assist us in creating promotions, to provide outreach to youth throughout the region and to educate their peers about SEPTA services and special events,” said Casey. “The group’s insight and contributions have been very helpful to the authority.”

Among the initiatives SEPTA’s YAC has worked on are a “Text-a-Tip” program for the authority’s Police Department that researched and offered recommendations for a system that would allow riders to report suspicious activities to police through text messaging; a survey to gain specific insight into the needs of youth riders in the SEPTA service region; and outreach events at local colleges to promote using mass transit.

“The mission of the YAC is two-fold. We present to SEPTA what local youth want and we help spread SEPTA’s message to our target audience,” said YAC Chair Jeff Kessler. “We take our position seriously. We have an annual operating plan, set goals and work not only to meet those goals, but to surpass them, which we have done. Our members are held accountable for their projects and have to actively participate.”

In fact, by the end of their current operating year, all YAC members will have collectively ridden every SEPTA route, which they keep track of via the members’ website.

"The YAC was the first advisory council to not only make a presentation to the General Manager’s executive staff, but be invited back for a follow-up,” said Kessler. “To me, that demonstrates that the Authority values us as an organization and they are serious about listening to the voices of its younger customers.”   

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