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Five Ways Market Research Paints Bright Future for Public Transit

9:45 AM PDT on October 19, 2011

At the Tuesday morning plenary of the Rail~Volution conference, William Millar made a bold pronouncement. The president of the American Public Transportation Association suggested that, beyond the 1,200 attendees of the annual gathering, there are billions of public transit advocates — they just don’t know it yet.

Millar may have meant the comment as inspiration, but consumer and demographic data seem to back his claim.

Over the course of four decades, the Southeastern Institute of Research in Richmond, Virginia, has conducted more than 14,000 market research studies for clients like AT&T and the AARP. During a panel discussion on “The Shifting Paradigm of the City,” the company’s CEO, John Martin, outlined a convergence of measurable trends that paint a very promising future for public transportation.

According to Martin, Millar is right: There is a large and growing audience for more and better public transit. Here are the top five reasons we could soon see a swell of transit advocates.

Growing population: With the U.S. headed to 341 million residents by 2020 and 400 million by 2040, the population is growing. If the current trend continues, an overwhelming number of them are bound for the cities. “What ultimately will happen is we’ll have these urban villages everywhere,” Martin said. But more people means more cars, and tight budgets mean no new roads. “News flash: Congestion, access and mobility are really going to be challenged,” he added. In that context, public transit will be an obvious answer for new and long-time city dwellers.

Demographic sea change: We’re facing a profound generational shift and, according to Martin: “The dynamic is aligning with transit big time.”

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