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Why Gen Y's use of public transport is soaring

Interesting observations about the usage of public transport by Gen Y’ers Down Under. New 2011 figures released by the Public Transport Authority in Australia show that commuters aged between 18 and 25 now make up 35 per cent of all train users and 40 per cent of all bus users – up from 30 and 38 per cent on last year. The key driver of this growth, according to Curtin University’s Professor Peter Newman, lies in new communication technologies and the desire by young people to “stay connected”.  Surfing the internet, linking, twittering and liking on facebook, that’s easier in public transport then driving a car, Newman states. But he might not be right, Alan Davies states in The Technology Observer today.

Stay connected
Professor Peter Newman’s point of view is stated in a news story “High-tech draws new generation to trains” at TheWest.com.au:

“Previous generations found freedom and flexibility through the car. But Generation Ys find their freedom and flexibility by staying connected to their friends, family and workplaces through the various information devices – like their laptops, or iphones. They can stay connected on a bus or a train. They can bring the office with them. They can bring their study with them. They can bring their friends with them. They can’t if they’re driving.”

No interest in cars
Alan Davies is convinced that new media technologies have a positive correlation with the usage of public transport, they are making it more attractive than it used to be. But at the website of The Technology Spectator Davies comes up with another explanation about the soaring use of public transport than Newman.

“I’m not convinced, though, that access to communication and entertainment technologies is the potent driver of young adult patronage that Professor Newman takes it to be. A much more likely driver, I think, is Gen Y’s falling interest in cars.”

Gen Y not interested in cars.  That’s a bold statement that needs to be underlined with some thorough thinking. Davies has crunched his brain and comes up with the following arguments:

  • Higher levels of regulation means it’s a lot harder to get a licence today than it used to be — it takes longer and it’s more expensive.
  • It’s riskier to drive. Penalties for driving while under the influence of drink or drugs are harsher. Fines for traffic offences are now large enough to have a severe impact on the budgets of students or junior workers.
  • A higher proportion of young adults are students who can’t afford a car. They stay longer in tertiary education and have to pay higher rents than ever, as well cover the cost of new “essentials” such as smartphones.
  • They have children at a later age and consequently not as many need a car for tasks like taking kids to child care and family shopping.
  • More are living and/or working in the inner city and inner suburbs where it’s getting harder to park and where spreading traffic congestion makes driving less attractive.
  • There are larger numbers of young migrants and overseas students who are more habituated to public transport than Australians generally are.
  • Cars are now more of a commodity, like dishwashers. There are other ways to signify “cool” or demonstrate status, most of them cheaper than a car
  • Young adults live at home longer than previous generations. It’s not worth shelling out for a personal car when mum or dad’s can be borrowed on important occasions.

Mum and dad’s car can be borrowed, a car is more like a dishwasher then a status symbol these days, if you don’t have any kids, where do you need a car for, smartphones are a new essential and they cost a lot of money, while cars stay expensive and driving licenses are harder to obtain. Ok…..

Who’s right?
I think both gentlemen could be right and that the arguments they come up with could be complimentary: they both can be the most important key driver of the soaring use of public transport by Gen Y in Australia, but maybe even on a global scale. What do you think?

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