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 with 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, which zillennial behaviors should transit agencies consider most when adapting to a new age of mobility?
From the zillennial perspective, there is no transportation without technology. Digitalization revolutionized the transit industry and — with the help of integrated apps — gives riders new transportation options like on-demand microtransit, ridesharing, and micromobility (e.g., e-scooters and bicycles).
Zillennials don’t recall a time before internet access, and they live in a world that enables their technological dependence. This comfort with digital devices, AI, and machine learning accelerates their willingness to adopt alternative modes of transit. These groups prioritize rider experience, convenience, and safety in transit tech 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.
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 on the same 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. Gen Z in particular is more likely to buy from companies that contribute to social causes — a trait previous generations are less likely to be influenced by.
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 foster journey-oriented relationships and communicate common goals with riders. Use social platforms to actively engage with riders in real time, and create consistent topical content to appeal to social algorithms.
As this multimodal microgeneration ages, their primary transportation methods may vary but their desires for digital integration, autonomy, 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 zillenial 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.