With an average of 1.37 cars owned per American adult, the personal automobile remains a staple of American transportation, according to the latest Daily Ride Index, conducted by global communications consultancy Ketchum. Despite many new alternative forms of transit, the average American has seen a 12% increase in time spent in their car per week (from 9 hours and 43 minutes per week, to 10 hours and 50 minutes per week) from October 2018 to March 2019.
Regardless of the increase in time spent in personal vehicles, only 59% of respondents reported using their personal vehicles daily, down 10 percentage points from Ketchum's October 2018 study. Alternate forms of transportation — such as walking, biking, riding a train or subway, and using a taxi or ride sharing service — also showed a downward trend between fall 2018 and spring 2019, when the survey was fielded, indicating an overall reduction in American mobility.
"In the past six months, Americans have reported decreasing daily use of all forms of transportation. Personal vehicles still dominate mobility, but transportation providers may not be considering the seasonal impact on consumer transit behaviors. Alternative forms of transportation have the opportunity to be more mindful of the effects that suboptimal weather conditions and infrastructure have on the driving/riding experience," said Kevin Oates, partner and managing director of Ketchum's Transportation team. "New forms of transportation must seriously address issues like harsh weather and poor road conditions if they are ever to rival the utility of personal vehicle ownership."
City centers paving the way to the transit future
Given the trend of urbanization — as noted in Mintel Trend's "Rebirth of Cities," which details how urban areas are transforming to maximize their potential in line with the needs of consumers — a look at the Daily Ride Index's urban respondents reveals key transportation behaviors.
The research indicates that American urbanites own fewer vehicles and drive less frequently than their rural counterparts. About half (56%) of those in urban environments use a personal vehicle to get from place to place daily, while two-thirds (67%) of those in rural environments drive their cars daily. Urbanites spend an average of 39% less time driving each week compared to their rural counterparts (10 hours and 20 minutes vs. 14 hours and 25 minutes). People in urban areas are more likely than those in the general population to not own any vehicles at all (15% vs. 13%).
People in urban areas spend more time using ride-sharing services, buses, trains and subways on average, compared to general consumers and rural consumers. Despite the fact that urbanites favor alternate modes of transportation, they are more likely (34%) than the national average (29%) to consider purchasing a new vehicle in the next 12 months.
Across the board, those in urban environments are more comfortable than the general population with advances in automotive technology, especially among alternative engine types, including: fully electric cars (42% vs. 35%), plug-in hybrids (38% vs. 33%), hydrogen-powered cars (29% vs. 25%), and fully autonomous (25% vs. 19%). Those who do own a vehicle in urban environments are more likely than the average American to own a hybrid vehicle (9% vs. 6%).
"As the world's population becomes more urbanized, the transportation habits of current city-dwellers population will provide important clues what the transportation sector of the future will look like," said Oates. "While some of this data isn't surprising, it reinforces the varied needs of the population today and how those needs may become more aligned with the mindsets of urban residents in the near future."
An emerging audience segment
The research also identified an audience segment that stands out from the general population. This emerging audience demonstrates a more future-focused mindset based on their transportation media consumption habits. Preliminary findings indicate that this group:
- Spends more time per week driving their personal cars than the average American – 13 hours and 22 minutes compared to general consumers spending 10 hours and 50 minutes;
- Spends more time using ride-sharing services per week (2 hours and 19 minutes) compared to the average consumer (1 hour and 2 minutes per week);
- Is more likely to use alternative work commute types than the general population, including bus (18% vs. 11%), taxi service (17% vs. 8%) and train/subway (12% vs. 7%);
- Is more likely to purchase a new vehicle in the next year (49% vs. 29%), with 58% stating they are comfortable with a fully electric car;
- Is 22% more comfortable with alternative fuel types than the average consumer, and is highly interested in purchasing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (43%), despite limited availability and refueling infrastructure;
- Is more open to autonomous driving vehicles then the general consumer (37% vs. 19%);
- Is more willing to complete their entire vehicle purchase online than the general consumer (54% vs. 30%).