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X marks the spot: understanding your passengers from Generation X

The Trapeze Team | September 14, 2015

Transport industry professionals are increasingly keen to understand the mindsets of passengers in order to tailor services to meet demand and encourage greater use of public transport. To do so it is of course necessary to understand passenger demographics. In an earlier article we examined Millenials; now we’re going to look at Generation X.1

Generation X represents people born between the early 1960s and early 1980s.2 This generation – also known as the ‘Baby Busters’ – is often perceived as highly educated, active, balanced, and family oriented; yet they are also characterised with "permanent cynicism" (as this Telegraph article notes).3 As the ‘Baby Buster’ nickname suggests, Generation X is sometimes thought of as the ‘middle child’ of generational cohorts; frequently overshadowed by the earlier Baby Boomers and later Millennials.

As a result, there is sometimes a tendency for organisations to forget about (or even dismiss) Generation X, yet this "forgotten generation" is both large and significant. See Figure 1 (below), which shows that Generation X is the most dominant demographic in 222 of 391 Local Authority areas in the UK, compared with 166 for Baby Boomers, and just 13 for Generation Y.

Generation X demographic map
Figure 1

Indeed, Generation X accounts for 27.9% of the UK population4, which translates to almost 18 million potential passengers. Is it time to give this neglected middle child some long overdue attention?

Current Behaviour

Generation X is perhaps caricatured most effectively by TV hit series Friends, this cohort was defined by key world events like the Cold War, while also living in a society of cheap, affordable housing and free education. At an early age, they were taught to strive for a suburban lifestyle and to discover the freedom of their first car. However, as oil prices skyrocketed and the housing market crashed, the Generation’s priorities shifted.

Writing in The Independent, Mark Hooper notes: "Symptoms that have long been commonly attributed to Generation X include the following: cynicism, alienation, amorality, solipsism, childlessness, pessimism, distrust of institutions, atheism and infantilism - for the most part, none too flattering. Factors commonly considered to be behind these symptoms include broken homes, the Cold War threat (and fear of nuclear holocaust), and career insecurity. Cheery, eh?"5

At a glance, it seems that Gen X is closely aligned with Millennials when it comes to behavioural trends. Indeed, data suggests both Millennials and Generation Xers "are apparently more multimodal than those of previous generations."6  The similarities are expanded upon further in this detailed study by Deloitte University Press, which found that "Gen Y consumers’ priorities were similar to other generations in the study (for example, the availability of public transportation and the choice of walking instead of using a personal vehicle […] as well as affordability, operational costs and use of public transportation)".7

Furthermore, it seems in some ways Millennials are actually copying members of Generation X – as both groups are moving away from the aspirations of private car ownership that so signifies Baby Boomers. This study on transport planning from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute suggests generations following the baby boomers "tend to drive significantly less, rely more on alternative modes, and many prefer to live in more compact, multi-modal urban environments […] the lifestyles portrayed in popular cultural (sic.), such as popular television shows such as Seinfield and Friends, are urban and multi-modal".8

Driving change

This trend toward multi-modal transport among Generation X can be partly attributed to environmental concern. The potentially catastrophic effects of climate change9 are well understood, and many people – across all generations – are now choosing sustainable forms of transport in favour of the private car.10

Yet there may also be another reason that explains why Generation X members are starting to take the train and the bus – and this is built upon modern technology.

Having grown up and witnessed the massive expansion of computers – the birth of Microsoft and Apple – and the invention of the internet, Generation X have lived their lives surrounded by technology. Market analysts believe Generation X are "totally comfortable with today’s myriad gadgets. Technology fuels their lives and enables them to be connected all the time, making it hard to unplug".11

This is a crucial element for public transport professionals to consider, because if we are to encourage members of this demographic to choose the bus, then services that facilitate the use of modern technology – smartphones; laptops; tablets, etc. – are vital. Indeed, there’s a convincing argument that Wi-Fi on bus services could help increase ridership, as well as passenger satisfaction.12  

Easy as X, Y, Z

So if Generation X is receptive to the idea of switching to public transport, what else can we do to ensure they actually do so?

Highlight environmental benefits

As we’ve seen, concern for the environment, and a willingness to champion sustainable living, is part of the reason Generation X are becoming more willing to leave their cars on the driveway. Is it possible to tap into these concerns to actively promote the bus and other modes of public transport to this generation? Yes, it is!

It may seem obvious, but positive campaigns to enhance the attractiveness of public transport and highlight the environmental benefits of using it instead of the car, can have a very real impact on ridership. Just think of Icelandic firm Straeto, which put a great deal of investment into self-promotional advertising and rebranding, and reaped the rewards as ridership numbers increased.13 If more organisations looked into similar strategies, and launched marketing campaigns highlighting the environmental benefits of public transport and bus travel, it could well strike a chord with environmentally minded members of Generation X.

Even simple images can convey the positive, sustainable benefits of public transport compared to the private car – and in a way that captures the imaginations of all viewers; regardless of their generation. Just think of this image from the Atlantic, which has spread across social media and been shared tens of thousands of times.14

Often, it can be as simple as letting the facts and figures speak for themselves. It’s tough to argue with the fact that one bus can replace 80 cars.15 Or that public transport vehicles can more easily use alternative fuels, and reduce CO2 emissions.

With all this in mind, we believe that transport organisations could gain significant traction among potential Generation X passengers by promoting these statistics and proving thought leadership on the environmental topics that the ‘Baby Busters’ care about.

Use technology to improve passenger experience

We’ve previously touched upon this, but because both Generation X and Generation Y increasingly demand constant access to the internet and their digital technology, it’s important that public transport meets these needs. Simple things like availability of power sockets for laptops and phones could be crucial here. Indeed, this article in the Economist notes: "Given how inseparable we now are from our gadgets, having somewhere to plug our tablets and the like is an easy and effective way to please customers."16

The rail industry is already taking note, with operators such as Greater Anglia announcing "power sockets and Wi-Fi will be installed" as part of a "major refurbishment programme".17

Could the bus industry do the same? Certainly, the tools and equipment exist to suggest so. Indeed, equipment such as Trapeze’s Intelligent Data Router (IDR) enables bus operators to provide customers with Wi-Fi while also consolidating assorted in-vehicle hardware and communications feeds – thereby improving service  levels while reducing costs.

So, what now?

With 18 million ‘Gen Xers’ in the UK, it is tempting to conclude that there are 18 million reasons for city planners and transport industry professionals to pay close heed to the travel and transport preferences, traits and trends of this environmentally conscious, technology-addicted generation. Indeed, doing so can help inform business and operating strategies, as we attempt to predict what the future holds for this ‘forgotten generation’, and how to act in order to increase their ridership.

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.18

In other words, understanding exactly what Gen X passengers want will be key to informing decisions when it comes to investing in the right technology and operating strategies. Indeed, perhaps Simple Minds – one of the typifying bands of the so-called ‘forgotten generation’ – said it best: "don’t you, forget about me; don’t; don’t; don’t; don’t…"

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 Generation X? We certainly think so; what do you think? 

References

  1. ‘Why Gen Y? Understanding Millennial passengers’ Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/article/why-gen-y-understanding-millennial-passengers
  2. ‘Generation X’ Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_X
  3. WALLOP, H., ‘Gen Z, Gen Y, baby boomers – a guide to the generations’ The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/features/11002767/Gen-Z-Gen-Y-baby-boomers-a-guide-to-the-generations.html
  4. RAE, A., ‘The Generations of the UK’ Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/alasdair-rae/the-generations-of-the-uk_b_7856198.html
  5. HOOPER, M., ‘Generation X: The Slackers who changed the world’ The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/generation-x-the-slackers-who-changed-the-world-436651.html
  6. SHAHAN, C., ‘New Census Data Reveal Millennial and Generation X Shift to Multi-Modal Transport’ Clean Technica http://cleantechnica.com/2014/10/12/new-census-data-millenial-generation-x-multi-modal-transport/
  7. GIFFI, C., A., VITALE, J., DREW, M,. GANGULA, B. and SCHMITH, S., ‘The changing nature of mobility’ Deloitte University Press http://dupress.com/articles/automotive-trends-gen-y/%20-%20sup-0 (July 2014).
  8. LITMAN, T., ‘The Future isn’t what it used to be: changing trends and their implications for Transport Planning’ Victoria Transport Policy Institute http://www.vtpi.org/future.pdf (August 2015).
  9. MONBIOT, G., ‘Climate change? Try catastrophic climate breakdown’ The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2013/sep/27/ipcc-climate-change-report-global-warming
  10. ‘A world without cars?’ Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/blog/article/a-world-without-cars
  11. ‘Marking the spot of Generation X’ Chief Marketer http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/blog/article/a-world-without-cars
  12. ‘Saving lives with on-board Wi-Fi, one journey at a time’ Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/blog/article/a-world-without-cars
  13. ‘Straeto, Reykjavik’ Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/blog/article/a-world-without-cars
  14. THOMPSON, D., ‘The case against cars in 1 utterly entrancing GIF’ The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/11/the-case-against-cars-in-1-utterly-entrancing-gif/281615/
  15. ‘Bus and coaches replace up to 80 cars!’ International Road Transport Union https://www.iru.org/en_policy_co2_response_replace
  16. ‘Socket to them’ The Economist http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2015/01/power-outlets-travellers
  17. ‘Air conditioning and wi-fi to be fitted on more Greater Anglia trains’ Echo News http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/13601895.Air_conditioning_and_wi_fi_to_be_fitted_on_more_Greater_Anglia_trains/
  18. LABRECQUE, S., ’10 things we learned about technology and sustainable urban transport’ The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/dec/05/sustainable-transport-urban-technology-debate-city-clean

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

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