Hook public transit users while they’re young: study

Jeanette Agcaoili sits on a bus on Guy St. in Montreal on Friday February 15, 2013. A new McGill University study has found that young Montrealers are not only using public transit much more these days, that shift is holding as they age. The researchers say the Société de transport de Montréal could seize on the trend and make transit even more attractive to youth in a bid to keep more of them from switching to cars. Photograph by: John Kenney , The Gazette

MONTREAL – Get them on buses, métros and trains while they’re young.

A new McGill University study has found that young Montrealers are not only using public transit much more these days, but that the shift is holding as they age.

The researchers say Montreal-area transit agencies could seize on the trend and make transit even more attractive to youth.

That could keep more of them from switching to cars and exacerbating Montreal’s traffic and pollution problems.

The rate of youth transit use has increased around the world in recent years.

In Montreal, 43 per cent of people age 20 to 25 used only public transit to get to school or work in 2008, compared with just 36 per cent in 1998, according to the study, conducted by Michael Grimsrud, a McGill urban-planning master’s student, and urban-planning professor Ahmed El-Geneidy.

The growth has been helped by several big changes, they said.

Graduated drivers’ licenses, which place conditions on youths driving when they first get their licenses, were introduced in 1997, delaying car use. In 2002, Montreal reduced fares for full-time students age 18 to 25. In 2008, convenient rechargeable transit cards entered the mix. More recently, online transit-planning tools have simplified travel for tech-savvy youth.

As it does elsewhere, transit use declines in Montreal as people age, plateauing as they reach their early 30s and staying that way through their working lives, Grimsrud said in an interview.

That plateau has traditionally been at 15 per cent in Montreal – in other words, among people in their early 30s and beyond, 15 per cent use only public transit to reach work.

For their study, Grimsrud and El-Geneidy analyzed data on trips around the Montreal region in 1998, 2003 and 2008. Their findings, based on commuters age 20 to 60 travelling to work or school, are to be published in the academic journal Transportation.

“That transit is becoming increasingly popular among young people has been seen across the U.S. and in Germany and elsewhere,” Grimsrud said. But “ours is the first study showing that such a shift is likely to hold as recent youths age.”

The study found that in Montreal, “recent young people hit the early 30s’ plateau at a much higher (transit) use rate than previous young people,” Grimsrud said.

Instead of plateauing at 15 per cent, their transit use now levels off somewhere between 21 per cent and 28 per cent, he said.

“Policies targeting the young and encouraging them to use transit are expected to pay back since the number of people leaving transit to other modes (of transport) will be less compared to previous” generations.

Grimsrud said such agencies as the Société de transport de Montréal and the Agence métropolitaine de transport could make transit even more attractive to youth.

They could, for example, “make it easier for eligible young riders to get reduced fares,” he said. “Currently, you have to wait in a long line and get your picture taken at a few locations during limited hours.”

Reduced fares are currently only offered to people under 26 who are full-time students. They pay $44 for monthly bus-and-métro passes; the full-fare pass costs $77.

That discount could be extended to students beyond age 25 “because it seems that all the way up to their early 30s, people are still changing their habits and their mode patterns,” Grimsrud said.

Another idea: open reduced fares to young people who are not students, he added.

Such changes would “cost money in the short term but if it prevents a switch to automobiles while people are still young and forming habits and preferences, transit use will stick into adulthood,” Grimsrud said.

“Preferences and habits formed in early life tend to persist.”

The study cites international figures indicating car use is dropping and transit use is growing among youth.

In the U.S., from 2001 to 2009, the 16-to-34 age group decreased by two per cent but made 15 per cent fewer driving trips, and travelled 40 per cent more kilometres by public transit.

In Germany, a 2012 study found kilometres driven among people age 18 to 29 fell by 20 per cent between 1997 and 2007. Meanwhile, the number of kilometres travelled on public transit increased almost fourfold.


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