tram on a leafy street


Gen Z focuses on walkable neighbourhoods and public transportation

Date: May 23rd 2024 | Author: Melanie Haynes

American households spend an average of almost $900 a month on their cars, not including the tax costs of roads and parking. By living in walkable and public transit-connected neighbourhoods, individuals can significantly reduce this expense, freeing up their budget for other needs. 55% of the US population would like to live in a walkable neighbourhood, but only 8% do.

Transportation and sustainability

Transportation is the largest source of emissions in the US, and encouraging communities to become car-free has a massive effect. To have a tangible impact on the climate, we need more people to live in walkable neighbourhoods with extensive public, active, and shared transport options. By choosing sustainable transportation, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint, contributing to a healthier and more sustainable environment. 

Gen Z’s preference for walkable neighbourhoods and public transportation

The good news is that the younger generations, defined as Gen Z, are already sold on this idea. In a survey by The National Association of Realtors 92% of Gen Z surveyed said they want to live in a walkable neighbourhood. 

65% of younger people said living near public transit is very/somewhat important. This figure has risen 9% since 2020, indicating a growing trend towards sustainable transportation. They prioritise expanding transportation alternatives, cycling opportunities, and walkable communities, painting an optimistic picture of a future with reduced car dependency and improved urban living. 

The National Association of Realtors undertakes a community transport preferences survey every three years, which maps changes in public perception of public transit in the US. The 2023 results show a marked difference in the attitudes of younger generations (Gen Z and Millennials) and older generations, who still prefer driving.

infographic showing key points of a survey

Meeting the needs of younger generations in public transit

Many Gen Zers and millennials have different expectations of how elements of public transit work, such as ticketing and planning their journeys. They are used to accessing information via their phones and paying for everyday things like their morning coffee using their device or payment cards. That is why it is even more critical that transit agencies meet these needs to ensure that the desire to use public transit is matched by action.

Kuba’s open-loop fare collection systems accept ‘taps’ from credit and debit cards and mobile wallets. Once a fare validator receives taps, they are communicated to a back office and aggregated. The correct trip fare is then calculated and charged as a post-payment. 

Riders find tap-and-go convenient using the card or smart device they carry everywhere. 

In addition, Kuba’s Travel Tools, available for mobility apps and web portals, provides a modern, intuitive and goal-oriented set of features for transit riders to plan their travel. They can obtain future and real-time travel information and select any available combination of public transit, microtransit, on-demand services, TNCs, bikes, scooters and carpooling. The multi-modal journey planner can suggest active transport, such as walking, for part of a trip.

Case Study: Culdesac – A Model for Walkable Neighbourhoods and Public Transit Integration

Last year, we wrote about Culdesac, a new planned walkable neighbourhood in Phoenix, Arizona. All residents receive a complimentary platinum transit pass courtesy of Valley Metro, a partner of Kuba’s, allowing them to travel on light rail to downtown Tempe, Phoenix, Mesa, and the airport.

Culdesac is situated right next to the light rail station. Before Culdesac was built, this was one of the least used light rail stops, but it is now one of the highest, proving that people will use public transit if it is convenient. 40% of Culdesac residents choose Valley Metro as their preferred method of transport, a much higher rate than the Tempe area as a whole. It could be argued that this results from free public transport, but even for a paying rider, the same journeys only cost $2. And it’s fast; the light rail takes 12 minutes from Culdesac to the ASU campus and 27 minutes to Phoenix Airport.

Influence of Academic Models on Changing Travel Behaviour

In changing people’s behaviour, an academic model known as MINDSPACE helps to examine how solutions like ours can have a tangible impact. The simplified version is EAST – Easy, Attractive, Social, and Timely. 

It is Easy to plan the entire journey in one place and know the cost of the entire trip. A modern and intuitive interface covers the Attractive element. Research shows that other Gen Zs hold the same views, so there is a Social element and positive peer pressure. Finally, the Timely element – using public transport has an immediate financial impact as opposed to the private car, which is increasingly out of financial reach for many Gen Zs. Additionally, there is the aspect of the younger generation’s climate anxiety; by using public transit and living in walkable neighbourhoods, their concerns about their environmental impact are somewhat alleviated.

Challenges in shifting travel behaviour and overcoming car culture

However, some argue that more is needed than offering ‘better’ alternatives to change travel behaviour. It takes more than an increase in acceptability, accessibility, affordability and availability of sustainable travel to change habits, as there are pre-existing biases to overcome and the wider society’s influence on behaviour and culture. While Gen Z are embracing public transit and walkable neighbourhoods – their attitudes aligning with the possibility of changing travel behaviour – the strength of car culture in the US still needs to be overcome.*

Exploring travel behaviour and barriers to modal change through MaaS in the UK – Milla Semisch & Unwire | Research Internship Summer 2022
* Kenyon, S. 2024. Commuter Students: Understanding Their Travel Behaviour and Reducing Their Environmental Impact. In Filho, W. L., Sima, M., Salvia, A. L., Kovaleva, M. and Manolos, E. Eds. 2024. University Initiatives on Climate Change Education and Research. London: Springer Cham. 10.1007/978-3-031-25960-9. (not yet published).