Millenials Place a Premium on Mass Transit. Why this Matters to your Business (the Bias Series)


Why Do Groups Matter?

We spend our lives organizing things into groups.  Its how we make sense of the world - we take items, find what's in common between them, and start to think about them as a set.   That item in common can be thought of as a grouping criteria.   In the Real Estate business, we organize  home search around these prospective buyers and present a listing  or a workflow on our website that appeals to these groups.

What criteria do your visitors consider when deciding where to live?  Perhaps they think about where their kids will go to school or how long it will take them to get to work.   Maybe they're more concerned with square footage or resell values.   Potential buyers now have an acute interest in this type of criterion. Search sites need to  provide explicit search options and property descriptions with key words to meet this demand. We are constantly presented with stats from surveys purporting to tell us which housing factors are important in home selection.   What these studies really tell us is more about the size and nature of a group of buyers for whom that criterion is relevant.   Commute time will only be relevant if you are part of a group we label "workforce".  School performance if you have or plan to have kids.  At least that's the theory.

Millenials?  What are They?

How do you define a sampling group?  Well, it relates to some set of criteria.  First, you need a base element - or member type.  Are we interested in people?  People who commute?  Only people who own homes?  Households?  Properties?  Maybe towns or counties?  Voters?  Likely voters?  People in certain age groups?   Then you will define a representative sample for polling.  If you are looking at "all people", then some random selection method will be used.  More often, you are already filtering membership by one or more criteria...perhaps your interest is in households with children living in rural West Virginia.   Or recent graduates of state universities.   The point is, some definition is required and that definition must follow attributes that can be defined and understood for group membership.  It would, for example, be impossible to identify all members who will vote in the 2028 elections.  However we can do a reasonable job of defining the group of potential voters based on date of birth. A well defined group enables choosing a representative sample which makes it possible to have meaningful results.  In the case of Millenials for purposes of a recent survey on the importance of transit, the group is defined by adults ages 18 - 34.

Millenials and Transit

A recent study revealed that Millenials place a premium on high-quality public transportation.   The survey, conducted by the Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation, found that 54% of millenials said they would consider moving to another city if it had better public transportation options.   The survey categorized major US cities by maturity of the public transportation system and then identified and polled a representative sample (see the "About the Survey" section). What does this have to do with Onboard?  When looking for homes, these potential buyers will be concerned with what public transportation options are available.  Having this information easily accessible is a key factor in their decision process.  Onboard Informatics supplies this type of lifestyle information to our clients, even providing Search By Proximity to Transit features in our APIs. Studies like this one may signal how trends are shifting for younger generations as they move into home-ownership.  As a business, it’s key to understand your potential customers and make sure your website speaks to the lifestyle information they value.  Sixty-six percent of those surveyed listed high quality transportation as a top factor in deciding where to live.  Can they find this information on your site? Lifestyle information can often be as important as information on the actual property.  For many customers, it’s not just where they live but how they live that pushes them to purchase.  It’s important to paint the full picture of every property listed on your site to achieve maximum conversion.

But sometimes A + B still = C.

So where is the bias in this story?  Its another case of presentation bias.  The study - or at least the editorial surrounding its release - is full of stats that provide a group snapshot without context:

  • 86% of Millenials say that affordable mass-transit is important
  • That rises to 92% for the sub-group of Millenials earning <$30k
  • 91% of Millenials believe that investing in public transit is worthwhile

Etc. Etc. There is a lot of information here...about Millenials.  But here's where the presentation bias comes in:  There is no control group for comparison or context.  Do we know whether transit is more important to the Millenial group than to Baby Boomers?  Gen Y?  Gen X?  These numbers sound impressive, and by the study's wording we are led to assume that Millenials value low cost public transit access more than other age based groups.  But do we know?  What if 94% of Gen Xer's say that affordable mass-transit is important?  Or if 96% of all individuals earning <$30k feel that way?

So What Do We Know For Sure?

We know for sure that affordable transit is important for adults age 18 - 34.  And that this importance increases as income decreases below $30k.  Also that the importance of regular access to a motor vehicle decreases for individuals in this age group as availability of mass transit increases. But I'm willing to bet that you could replace "18 - 34" with any age range you like and these statements would still be true.  The real question, and one not apparent from the survey results is:  How does the importance of mass-transit differ for Millenials compared to other groups?  Is it rising?  Falling?  Is it a factor of two?  We simply don't know because that information is not presented.  And we have bias by omission.  Understanding the comparative importance will be the key to understanding how you should change your presentation for Millenials in contrast to other groups. Should you change your website to present transit data?  Yes (and we can help you do it well with great content). But you should do this  because its already important, and has been for a long time.... Click here for more information on this study.