Public transportation isn’t immune to the current era of sharing, subscriptions, and digital dependence. A microgeneration of late millennials and early Gen Zs — Zillennials — are redefining transit culture and services.
Who are Zillennials? People born between 1992 and 1998, who may be too young to relate to core millennial characteristics and too old to wholly identify with Gen Z.
These trailblazers are part of a new generation in America who are moving away from car ownership and relying more on accessible multimodal transportation.
Global marketing agency Allison+PR conducted a survey to explore the evolution of American consumer values as they pertain to the increase in access to mobility options. The Birth of Mobility Culture identifies several changes in consumer behavior and overall attitude toward transit compared to previous generations.
So, what generational behaviors should transit agencies consider most when adapting to a new age of mobility?
To Zillennials and members of Gen Z, there is no transportation without technology. Digitalization revolutionized the transit industry and — with the help of integrated apps — has given riders new transportation options like on-demand microtransit, ridesharing, and micromobility (e.g., e-scooters and bicycles).
The members of these generations don’t recall a time before internet access, and they live in a world that enables their technological independence. Their comfort with digital devices translates into a readiness to adopt alternative modes of transit. These groups prioritize rider experience, convenience, and safety in transit features — factors transportation providers can prioritize in future tech-heavy mobility solutions like high-speed rail.
While cars remain a primary mode of transportation for Zillennials, the way they’re being used is changing quickly. In addition to increased ridesharing, the survey suggests half of all riders will use autonomous vehicles by 2029, with Zillennials and Gen Z citing convenience (67%) and relaxation (65%) as primary reasons. But there are other reasons as well.
In the past three years, the pandemic and resulting chip shortages have drastically increased the cost of vehicles. Used car prices have risen by 30% since the arrival of Covid in 2020, and automakers have cut back on their production of cheaper new vehicles, like the Nissan Versa, Sentra and Kicks, that might be a first new car for this new generation. Inflation has also exacerbated the costs of vehicle ownership; for example, impacting auto insurance rates, which are expected to notch up by an additional 8% this year. In all, it makes financing and maintaining a car a significant burden for young people.
The Transit Aesthetic
Public transit is a vibe. In an NPR interview about using public transportation, 24-year-old Michelle Santa Maria says, “I just — I feel like it’s so cute.” Riding helps Zillennials like Michelle feel less lonely. That’s understandable in today’s world where working from home or avoiding large public gatherings is common, thus reducing face-to-face interactions with other people.
There’s more to public transportation than getting to your destination. Sharing a bench with a fellow bus rider and other small interactions with passengers or friends during the commute are what makes public transit unique. In a time of widespread isolation — whether it’s mandated or by choice — public transportation may be one of the few spaces where you can’t avoid being around people.
For some riders, that’s the point.
Zillennials and Gen Z value authentic relationships with brands more so than their predecessors. They’re looking for consistent communication as well as policies that align with values like environmental awareness and social equity. Unlike previous generations, Gen Z is more likely to buy from companies that contribute to social causes.
It’s important for transit agencies to think about developing customer relationships before, during, and after the ride. Social media and in-app experiences are tools providers can use to nurture relationships and communicate common goals with riders. Social platforms can help them actively engage with riders and feature topical content that aligns with their values.
A Transit Community
As this multimodal microgeneration ages, their primary transportation methods may vary but their desires for digital integration, inclusiveness, socialization, and brand connection run deep. A greater sense of community drives the “we” narrative that Zillennials continue to write, drifting from individualistic attitudes toward a more collective mindset.
Taking advantage of digital tools to communicate in real time with riders, prioritizing experience and convenience, and actively showcasing alignment with Zillennial values are several forward-thinking solutions transit providers can use in adapting to demands of new generations who live online but crave connection IRL — in real life.