Why Gen Y? Understanding Millennial passengers

The Trapeze Team | June 23, 2015

Exploring how Millennials Travel in 2015

UK transport industry professionals are increasingly interested by one crucial demographic cohort: Millennials; individuals born anywhere between the early 1980s and 20001. These individuals, also known as Generation Y,2 are commonly stereotyped as a demanding, overly optimistic, self-obsessed and tech-savvy generation.3

Estimates for the number of Millennials in the UK vary, though a 2007 report by Dublin-based Research and Markets estimated almost 10 million, representing about 16% of the total population and almost 20% of the adult population.4

Clearly it is crucial to understand the behavioural traits of this demographic, because by studying their traits, characteristics and preferences, we can start to learn the trends and patterns that tell us how they like to travel and the impact they have on the public transport industry.

Transport industry professionals will naturally be keen to discover the preferred mode of transportation among Millennials, as finding out whether Gen Y are leaning toward public transport or the private car is clearly of paramount importance.

In the US, we have already seen that public transport is winning the battle with the private car;5 but is there a similar pattern here in the UK? Let’s find out.

How Generation Y get from A to B

In good news for the public transport industry, evidence shows a decline in the number of Millennials driving private cars. A report by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology notes fewer young people are driving; meaning “car miles per person will gradually fall off as ‘generation Y’ reach middle age and replace the current generation of highly car-dependent users.”6

Increasingly it appears that Millennials are the most willing demographic to take alternative modes of transportation. However, while it would be tempting to reason this trend is caused by a conscious desire to make ‘greener’ transport and lifestyle choices, there is little evidence to that effect. Instead, it appears this trend is caused by a number of influential external factors.

Influencing factors


Millennials are increasingly moving away from rural towns and villages in favour of urban areas, with London overwhelmingly the destination of choice, as this CityLab article notes: “A full third of all British 20-somethings [who relocated] made their way to London (by comparison, Manchester and Birmingham drew in 3% each among the same group)”.7

The Office of National Statistics offers the following graph to illustrate this point.

Graph showing migration of millennials

Therefore, attraction to city life partly explains the decline of car use for this cohort, simply because alternative transport options are less costly (taking into account insurance, fuel, congestion charges and vehicle taxes), and avoid experiences such as sitting in traffic jams or searching for parking spaces.


The traditional argument is that higher income enables people to accommodate the costs associated with driving and owning a car. Therefore, with Millennials earning less than their parents’ generations (baby boomers), they are less able to purchase a car. A detailed study by research firm TNS noted this supports this view: “rising costs appear likely to depress demand to buy cars among city dwellers of all ages, with Generation Y particularly under pressure.”8

In the UK, the various economic hardships facing “generation rent” are well publicised, while a recent study found young people were “unlikely to attain wealth of parents’ generation”, as the economic gap between older members of the population and younger people grows increasingly unequal.9,10,11

Economic necessity therefore appears to be pushing Millennials towards public transport, as well as modes such as walking and cycling. As the TNS study noted: "On increasingly crowded roads (especially in urban areas) consumers are finding it harder to justify car journeys, when cheaper, healthier and more sustainable options like public transport, walking and cycling are seen as becoming more convenient.”

Lifestyle and Values

Despite stereotypes to the contrary, research increasingly suggests that young people are not as materialistic as previous generations – with one crucial exception: their smartphones and mobile devices like laptops and tablets.
Indeed, younger generations value smartphones more than private cars.12 So what does this mean for the public transport sector? We may well see “the future of transport [based on] ‘mobility as service”, according to one detailed Guardian article.13 This means passengers will “increasingly use their smartphones to check ultra-detailed travel news” and book their journeys via online booking portals or apps.14

In fact, as we posited in one of our blogs, it seems likely that our transport networks “will increasingly function through the mass movement of information, rather than vehicles”.15

But how do Millennials feel about taking public transport? We found an answer to that too…

Zipcar’s annual “Millennial Survey” suggests Millennials have different lifestyles from previous generations,16 with 45% having made a conscious effort to reduce how much they drive in favour of other modes of transportation.

It is also interesting to note that Millennials’ transport habits and preferences are having a positive impact; numerous studies show that commuting by public transport makes you happy, while other studies suggest Generation Y – despite the low income, high debt and negative stereotypes – is in fact one of the happiest generations.17,18

Is this a coincidence? Perhaps not. As Jason Torrance, policy director at sustainable transport group Sustrans, says: “We’re at a stage now in history where people, especially young people, want to have the choice whether to drive or not to drive […] the appetite is there for alternatives to the car.”

What does this mean for transport?

With some 10 million Millennials in the UK it is tempting to conclude that there are 10 million reasons for city planners and transport industry professionals to pay close heed to the travel and transport preferences, traits and trends of this tech-savvy generation. Indeed, paying close attention can help inform business and operating strategies, as we attempt to predict what the future holds for Gen Y, and how to act in order to retain their ridership – and even strive to increase it.

As we have seen, the value placed by Millennials on their smartphones and digital devices will likely require the transport industry to provide high quality technology that can be used – and can attract – Gen Y passengers. This may take the form of on-bus Wi-Fi or passenger information relayed via mobile applications.

As the Economist Intelligence Unit noted in a detailed study on passenger transformation: “Transportation is a sector straining to keep pace with rapid population growth and shifting mobility patterns […] by linking mobile devices to [public] transportation, you can create a much smarter transport system that works…from the bottom up, enabling users to get more effective transport where they need it and save money, too.”19

Other technology, such as real-time tracking and information and mobile ticketing will also be vital in retaining Millennial passengers.

As was noted during a recent debate on technology and sustainable urban transport: “Too often we lead with the technology or data and look for problems to solve. Where [technology] works best is [when] cities are spending time understanding the anthropology of communities and then formulating responses” to the characteristics and trends displayed by different groups of people.20

In other words, understanding exactly what Gen Y passengers want will be key to informing decisions when it comes to investing in the right technology.

5 billion bus and coach journeys are made in the UK each year. Does the key to maintaining these numbers and continuing to increase ridership lie within the travel patterns of Millennials? We certainly think so; what do you think? 



  1. “Millennials” Wikipedia
  2. WALLOP, H., “Gen Z, Gen Y, baby boomers – a guide to the generations” Telegraph
  3. CHAMORRO-PREMUZIC, T., “Are millennials as bad as we think?” Guardian
  4. “Generation Y Market Report Assessment” Research and Markets
  5. BRETT, D., “Want to know your riders? Meet Millennials” Trapeze Group
  6. HOBBS, A. and HARRISS, L., “Peak car use in Britain” Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)
  7. FLORIDA, R., “Expensive London is still the UK’s top destination for young people” CityLab
  8. ELLEN, B., “Generation Rent: Ignored, insecure – and on the rise” Guardian
  9. “Are the wheels coming off for Generation Y?” TNS
  10. WALKER, P., “Young people ‘unlikely to attain wealth of parents’ generation’ – Study” Guardian
  11. PEREIRA, E., “Wealth Inequality Between Young and Old Generations Reaches Record High” Forbes 2011
  12. RAYNER, A., “The end of motoring” Guardian
  13. MOSS, S., “End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile”
  14. EVERSON, P. “Mobile Passenger Information: Apps or Mobile Web?” Trapeze UK
  15. “What happened to our world of tomorrow?” Trapeze UK 2015
  16. “Millennial is a state of mind – Zipcar 2015 Millennial Survey Results” Zipcar
  17. JOHNSTON, I., “Taking public transport instead of driving to work makes people happier, study suggests” Independent
  18. SANGHANI, R., “Whisper it – ‘selfish’ millennials are actually the happiest generation” Telegraph
  19. “How mobile is transforming passenger transportation: clearing the way for more liveable cities” Economist Intelligence Unit
  20. LABRECQUE, S., “10 things we learned about technology and sustainable urban transport” Guardian

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About The Trapeze Team

The Trapeze Team are here to bring you news and information from Trapeze Group (UK) and the public transportation industry.