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Study: Promising future for public transportation

2013 was a big year for RTD as it marked the opening of the first FasTracks project, The West Rail Line, which runs between Denver Union Station and the Jefferson County Government-Golden Station. 2013 was also a big year for transit on the national scale as transit riders took 10.7 billion rides and set an all-time U.S. record.

TransitCenter, a new transportation-focused philanthropy, felt that discussion of the ridership increase “focused too much on the sheer number of rides” and overlooked the more nuanced components of transit ridership.

In light of these claims, TransitCenter conducted a first-of-its-kind survey of 46 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) that received 11,842 responses and uncovered various interesting findings about transit riders and the general attitudes of transit.

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The results of the study are summarized in the Who’s On Board: 2014 Mobility Attitudes Survey report that highlights how Americans from across the country view and utilize public transit in remarkably similar ways.

This report aims to provide context for real estate and transportation professionals “as millennials begin to take center stage in American life and the baby boom generation confronts retirement.”

The report targeted both “transit progressive” and “transit deficient” MSAs in an effort to control for variations in the local built environment.

One interesting finding was that riders of all ages in all regions of the U.S. place “the greatest value” on factors like travel time, cost, proximity, and reliability as opposed to other perks one might expect to boost ridership.

The report also found that there is a high demand for quality public transportation infrastructure nationwide, but that there is currently a disconnect between the idealized transit communities and the ones that already exist.

Two other major findings were that people with children are just as likely to use transit as people without children and that the very wealthy, income greater than $150,000, are just as likely to use transit as the very poor, income less than $30,000.

The final major discovery was how the demographics of American transit use are shifting so that “Americans under 30 are 2.3 times more likely to ride public transit than Americans age 30-60, and 7.2 times more likely than Americans over 60.”

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So what are the implications of these findings for RTD and the Denver region as a whole? First off, Denver is doing well considering that FasTracks is well underway and slated to complete numerous new lines in the near future.

One can also see how Denver is effectively planning to allow for their baby boomers to “age in place” while also encouraging millennials to take residence within the region.

While there are always countless factors at play, TransitCenter’s new report represents a step in the right direction for the transportation industry. The findings from this study also provide promising feedback on RTD’s and the region's recent efforts to foster a sustainable multi-modal transportation network for the entire area.