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What influences mode choice?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/13/16 @ 4:00pm  |  Posted in Transportation

We take a second look at a national opinion poll conducted in 2014 by the Transit Center. It is helpful in understanding “mode choice” or what influences someone to drive versus taking an alternative, in this case, public transit. The 11,820 respondents divulged how much their age, income, address, upbringing, etc. are influencing their choices.

<br />Values that influence mode choice. Image: Transit Center.

Regional snapshots include the Midwest sliced into “transit progressive” cities like Cleveland and transit deficient ones like Columbus. The purpose is to inform policy making.

Nationwide, transit is a growing choice for those under 40 years old. Millennials are by and large delaying driving (only 37% are seeking licenses). They are “defying their upbringing” in suburbia and their parents who didn’t encourage them to use transit.

The Who’s On Board report provides an interesting ‘a-ha’ moment: Parents of Millennials are more likely to try transit than their older cohort (parents of Gen X).

“This shift is exceptional especially when considering the car-centric environment in which these Millennial parents were themselves reared,” the report comments.

Millennials and their transit-curious parents are a potential sweet spot for policy makers, says Transit Center which estimates they represent 24% of commuters.

The most influential “mode choice” factors for this group are cost, the desire for mobility, socializing, trying new things, and improving air quality. By region, Midwest participants said cost, “freedom” and reliability (consistent travel time) are most important in their mode choice.

Northeast Ohio is certainly moving in the wrong direction on the cost side of transit. But, it may want to make a case for reliability. To do so will mean impressing upon transportation policy makers in Northeast Ohio a consideration for the arrival times of the bus. A closer examination of transit may show how it is already reliable compared to other modes. A careful consideration of commuting would consider that limiting choice leads to a relatively unreliable system.

Home address is the single greatest predictor of mode choice. For every doubling of a zip code’s population density, the probability of being a transit user increases 4.1 percent.

How much does land-use influence transportation choice? In a word, it’s everything. 46% said their ideal neighborhood has mixed uses (supporting frequent transit).

As Northeast Ohio considers its long-range transportation plan, it has an opportunity to consider how transportation supports compact land use, which is a key ingredient for transit to operate efficiently.

“Transit-oriented development and policies that promote density are the most powerful way to encourage transit use,” Transit Center concludes. “However, attitudes toward transit/automobiles, the environment, risk-taking, and—most of all—toward community and urbanism all affect people’s propensity to use greener methods of transportation. Taken together, this suggests that most people will abandon their cars not when they are enticed onto transit, but when they are able to move to a mixed-use neighborhood.”

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