The National Academies

TCRP H-51 [Completed]

Understanding Changes in Demographics, Preferences, and Markets for Public Transportation

  Project Data
Funds: $349,799
Research Agency: New England Transportation Institute
Principal Investigator: Matthew A. Coogan
Effective Date: 10/23/2015
Completion Date: 4/30/2018


Changes are occurring in many areas that may have major impacts on public transportation ridership. These include changes in demographics, geographic trends, employment, land use, technology, transportation options, and psychographics. To date, however, no single document exists for transit managers, advocates, and elected officials that examines how these factors currently affect transit ridership and how continued changes may impact public transit markets over the coming decades. Improved information will help transit agencies strategically prepare for the future. Available literature improves the ability of analysts and practitioners to understand how changes in key factors influence transportation behavior. For example, literature presents information on how different demographic and socioeconomic groups have, in the past, made decisions about their residential location, auto ownership, and transit use. Some researchers are now challenging an older model of residential decision-making by considering whether there is an increased interest in residing in compact neighborhoods with shorter commute trips and more travel mode options; others suggest that these are short-term phenomena and trends will revert to the patterns of the past.
Other research relevant to changing transit markets and travel behavior is examining additional factors that may be driving transit use such as family formation (size); population composition in terms of race and ethnicity; and lifestyles that include walking, biking, and transit use. Developing geographical trends (including regional migration, immigration, metropolitan growth, and emerging megaregions in the U.S.) are likely to impact travel demand and transit markets in the future. Information and communication technologies are becoming ubiquitous, and emerging technologies and mobility services (e.g., smartphone apps, carsharing, bikesharing, and dynamic ride services) are likely to impact the market for public transportation services in different ways in the future. Research is needed that focuses on how transportation markets are (and are not) changing. The proposed research will help transit agencies better market, operate, and plan public transportation for current and emerging markets.

The objectives of this research are to: (1) provide the public transit community with an improved understanding of how changes over the past two decades have affected the universe of existing and potential transit customers; (2) examine the relevant factors and anticipated trends that may affect future travel behavior; and (3) provide guidance on how these changes may shape public transit marketing strategies, operations improvements, service design, and future capital investments. The research should address changes in the fundamental drivers of travel behavior, including but not limited to:
  • Demographics and socioeconomics, including but not limited to generational, income, ethnicity, education, and other factors;
  • Preferences affecting where people live, work, shop, and play, including attitudes that influence travel decisions;
  • Perceptions toward travel modes, auto ownership, and the environment;
  • Characteristics of Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) including land use, geographic trends, employment and residential location, as well as housing affordability, and availability of transportation options;
  • Workplace characteristics including the types of jobs, location, flex-time, telecommuting, hoteling, and public transit benefits; and
  • Information and communication technologies that affect attitudes, travel patterns, and lifestyle options that change the need to travel and trip types.


The research is complete and published as TCRP Report 201.

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