Getting around is a significant issue for people in this day and age of high gas prices and environmental concerns. Nowadays, the generation known as Millennials (or people born from the 1980s onward) want to use public transportation to travel through the city. It is not just because they are obviously all susceptible to the green movement’s message, but because it is cheaper than owning a car. Recent college graduates could have bought a high-end performance car for what it costs to graduate, but under the weight of their student loans, they simply cannot afford a car in many cases. It is no wonder that Millennials, according to a recent survey, are including public transportation in their decision-making processes, making it the old “new idea” on how to get around.
According to the Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America, 66 percent of Millennials include public transportation in their top three priorities for moving to a new city and 54 percent of them would consider moving to a different city if the public transportation were better in a different area. If American cities want to attract educated, skilled, hipster-jean-wearing, debt-ridden Millennials as residents, they should invest in things like subways, trains, buses, and light rail. However, is this really as important as survey makers would want people to believe? To answer that question, it is helpful to look at cities outside of the United States to see how they handle their public transportation.
Sydney, Australia, which was recently featured by the popular television sitcom Modern Family, has an extensive public system, including a train system that offers access to Sydney International Airport. Recently, the map for the train system got a redesign with help from Dr. Rolf Bergmeier, a transport consultant. However, instead of making it easier, it might just make it more difficult to understand how to get around on the train. Apparently, the New South Wales government where Sydney has an extensive system, has said that the changes were a result of consumer research, but it can be assured that consumers do not want a map that is hard to understand. Regrettably, that is what they are going to get.
In America, this might not pose a problem in many places. Not enough people use the trains as transportation to make the map system a useful investment. But in Sydney, it is a problem on a large scale. In 2013, 195.8 million adults rode the train in New South Wales. This number increased by 642,106 from the previous year. Having a bad map for the trains in Sydney is not a small problem. It is a problem on the scale of millions. While the train system in Sydney did not make an appearance on Modern Family, the new, hard to understand maps would have been perfect comedy fodder if it had though undoubtedly it will not be as amusing to the Australians.
According to the survey from Rockefeller, Millennials might just love to live in Sydney, Australia, though whether their main reason for moving there would be the public transit or the fabulous beaches is hard to say. But Sydney, minus the bad map update, is the type of city where Millennials would want to live. Still, is it useful for any other city type than one based on a western model? If it is, public transportation might be a little bit more than the old “new idea” fad that Millennials are looking for and, in fact, that looks to be true.
The Middle East and North Africa region is adopting mass transit as its new way to travel. There is currently a congress meeting over the course of four days to discuss the matter. The conference is organized by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), which is being held at Dubai’s World Trade Centre. Representatives from 25 countries are expected to attend and look at the options available for their public transportation systems. Dubai itself has its own system, including Metro, public buses, marine transit and taxi services, and will host the conference for the next ten years.
From this bit of information, it looks like public transportation is more than just a western civilizational idea. But widespread, multi-cultural adoption does not mean that it is perfect, as most Millennials will say. Delays, track-work, jerks who sit next (or on) each other on the cars, bad smells, and the fact that sometimes public transport just does not go where people need it to go – these are all issues for people who use public transportation on a regular basis. In fact, safety is a significant issue, particularly for women.
The Atlantic asked that very question. The article cited the fact that the numbers of people using public systems of transportation are the highest they have been since the 1950s and in most cases, women are the ones using it more than men. Nevertheless, women are also more likely to choose to drive their cars because they feel safer in their own space than they do waiting for public transport or riding in it with questionable people. There is an acknowledged gender-gap in safety concerns when it comes to using public systems. Until a solution to that problem can be found, public transportation will continue to be of questionable use for women.
There is also the question of costs. In America, most people drive cars on highways, freeways, and roads in the cities, so those take a set amount of precedent over public transportation. In America, the deficit is of great concern, so adding more money to that in order to create better public transport might not be the most popular idea at this time. There is a flipside to this, however, and it is that creating more and (hopefully) better systems would create jobs that are desperately needed in the American economy. President Obama seems to think that jobs are worth part of the deficit as he allotted 4.1 billion dollars in 2009 for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER), which has been used for road, rail, transport, and port projects across the country.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that public transportation is of increasing importance in the United States, not just to fad-happy Millennials with mountains of student loan debt, but in general. Rising gas prices have created a small renaissance of money-saving transportation tricks. According to a Transport Savings Report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), people who use such systems are saving over 10,000 dollars per year, about 800 dollars per month. Public systems are good for everyone who needs to save money (that is everyone). Most importantly, savings like this are important to Millennials who have an average debt of over 20,000 dollars. This may be below the national average, but Millennials are also the people who are trying to break into the job market at the ground level and will not be making very much money with which to pay off that debt. So, the savings from public transportation could pay off almost half of their debt in a year, which makes the Millennial generation very, very happy.
Debt and gas prices probably will not be enough to keep people from using cars altogether. Cars are too convenient, too useful for long drives and hauling groceries from the store to home, and, frankly, a lot prettier to look at than trains or buses. However, public transportation has captured the imagination of people looking to save money and the environment. Still, it is not a new idea, nor is it limited to certain countries or cultures. Luckily, there are Millennials all over the world, and they are wildly supportive of this old “new idea,” so it is sure to keep its popularity and usefulness for a long time to come.
Opinion By Lydia Webb