Millennials, baby boomers and parents: Trends in travel

PSRC’s Suzanne Childress recently delved into data from household travel surveys to understand trends on driver’s license rates by age, which led to discovery of some other interesting data on travel trends. 


Young people are waiting until an older age to get their driver’s licenses according to a recent national study. We were wondering if the national research on driver’s licenses could be observed in the Seattle region in our recent 2014 household travel survey. As I started to dive into this question from the household survey, it made me ask a bunch of other interesting questions! This blog post reflects the rambling data discovery process I conducted. I’ll take you on the journey with me.



Source: PSRC Household Travel Surveys 2006 and 2014




Our last household survey was 2006, so we are comparing the driver’s license rates between 2006 and 2014.

The image above shows that the percent of 16 to 17 year olds with licenses did decrease from 55% in 2006 to 45% in 2014 in the Puget Sound region. There is also a slight decline from 2006 to 2014 in the percent of people with licenses, until around age 35.

Interestingly, there is a slight trend towards older people hanging onto their driver’s licenses during that time period. For example, 95% of 65-74 year olds had licenses in 2014, as compared to 92% in 2006.

These differing trends between young people and older people made me wonder if the real factor in determining driver’s license ownership was worker status. Many jobs even require that a person has a driver’s license.




The American Community Survey showed a decline for the Puget Sound region in the share of 16-19 year olds working, from 38% in 2006 to 24% in 2014. Conversely, the American Community Survey showed an increase in the share of 65-69 year olds working, from 31% in 2006 to 37% in 2014.


Source: American Community Survey 2006 and 2014

Local workforce participation rates reflect national trends. Since the early 1990s, teen employment rates have been declining, and the most recent recession has amplified that trend. In 1978, 58% of 16-19 year olds had a summer job, while only 31% did in 2014. Conversely, older workers have remained in the workforce longer than expected, in many cases deferring retirement in reaction to the economic downtown of 2007-2009.

It’s interesting to see these employment trends by age alongside driver’s license trends. A greater share of people of an age group working correlates with a greater share of people of the age group having driver’s licenses, but rigorously proving that employment causes young people to get licenses would require much more econometric work.

Anyway, trends in licenses really only matter if people’s behaviors and travel choices are changing. So I asked the next question.




I found this trend in transit by age group to be the most fascinating. Young people are using transit more, but so are middle aged people! You can see this in the image below.

Two groups stand out as outliers in the transit mode share trends: people age 35-44 and people over 65. People age 35-44 are using transit in about the same amount in 2014 as in 2006. Older people are using transit less, commensurate with more of them having licenses. There may be other reasons older people are using transit less. Why do you think people over age 65 have lower transit mode shares in 2014 than in 2006?

I was especially interested in the 35-44 year old group because I hadn’t ever seen that trend before.


Source: American Community Survey 2006 and 2014




My hypothesis is that 35-44 year olds are most likely to have children in the household and this makes it more difficult to switch to transit. The chart below shows that people age 35-44 are the most likely to have children in their household.


Source: 2014 PSRC Household Travel Survey


I happen to be in this age group and having my first child. Even though I’m a transportation planner, I’m wondering how easy it would be to bring my baby on the bus. The main reason is that the bus I ride is standing room only and people are smashed door to door in together and I don’t know how I’ll be able weave a baby in there!

Another reason that adults with children in the household may not use transit as much: child caretaker travel patterns tend to be complicated and may not be well-supported by a transit system. Finally, adults with children in the household have limited time and may not be able to spend the extra time on transit.

The image below shows that the number of children in the household has a strong negative relationship with transit mode share.


Transit Mode Share for Adults with Children in the Household by Number of Children (Source: 2014 PSRC Household Travel Survey)


Thanks for going on this data exploration with me where we found out that:

  • Younger people are getting licenses later, and older people are holding onto licenses more than a few years ago.
  • Fewer young people are employed and more older people are employed than a few years ago.
  • Transit use is generally going up, except for those aged 35-44 and over 65.
  • Adults with children in the household are much less likely to use transit than other adults.

I love household travel studies because they let you observe interesting trends and find things out you might have never guessed.


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Walking and transit are top travel modes for college students

With the University of Washington back in session this week, roughly 700,000 K-12 and college students in the region will be finding a way to make it to class on time. 

photo of students in red square at UW

School started September 30 for students at the University of Washington.

Last fall PSRC conducted a survey of college student travel behavior as a supplement to the Regional Travel Study of over 6,000 households in spring 2014.

PSRC received 4,411 completed surveys from students at Bellevue College, Everett College, Green River Community College, Seattle Colleges, and the University of Washington.

The data is still being analyzed, but some initial findings include:

  • Most students don’t live on campus (89%).  The percentage of students living on campus is highest at the University of Washington (22%).
  • More than 65% of college students walk at least 2-7 times a week (versus 49% of the regional population)
  • 53% use transit 2-7 times per week (versus only 15% of the regional population)
  • 10% ride their bike 2-7 times per week (similar to 9% of the regional population)
  • A small percentage of students use alternative car sharing/ride options, with Car2Go, Uber and Lyft being the most popular.
  • 80% of students are full time.

Regional household surveys do not always collect enough college student samples to describe their unique behaviors.

This study helps supplement PSRC travel model estimations to better represent students’ travel patterns and understand how transportation needs vary across the region.

Share of biking trips up 44 percent since 1999

Since 1999, biking has increased as a share of total trips by 44 percent.  

Much of the increase in bike mode share has occurred since 2006.

Much of the increase in bike mode share has occurred since 2006.

The data comes from the 2014 Regional Travel Study and two previous travel surveys in 1999 and 2006. 

The surveys collect information on how people travel, where they go, how long it takes to get there and more. 

In the Puget Sound region, people make about 178,000 daily trips by bicycle, averaging about 4 miles a trip.  That adds up to 711,000 miles biked each day.

About 65 percent of the trips are by males, with people ages 25-34 representing the highest proportion of bike riders.

The most common reason for biking is to commute to work (39 percent). Exercise (19 percent) is the second largest purpose and school is the third largest (9 percent).

Other reasons (27 percent) people bike include visiting friends, going to a restaurant, or running an errand.

You can read more on bicycling data and trends in a recent post on PSRC’s data blog.

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Gas price influences personal commute choices

Across all four counties, a $5 per gallon gas price would cause about 20% of commuters to use carpool or transit options more often.

In addition to observed travel behaviors, survey respondents also answered many statedpreference questions. These are mostly hypothetical questions designed to help understand attitudes towards different policies or topics, or questions about general behavior and interaction with the transportation system

In addition to observed travel behaviors, survey respondents were asked questions designed to help understand
travel choices.

PSRC’s recent travel study asked participants to answer what might cause them to commute by carpool, vanpool, or transit an extra day per week (more than they already do) based on a list of hypothetical scenarios.

Not surprisingly, answers varied widely across the four counties. While gas prices produced the most consistent response in all counties, higher parking costs were a bigger factor for King County workers. Saving 10 minutes was of higher value to King and Snohomish workers.

Nearly 60% of Kitsap and Pierce respondents said that none of the hypothetical scenarios would change their travel choices.

Read the full summary report of the 2014 travel study here.

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How is the region’s travel behavior changing?

The Washington State Transportation Commission heard key findings  from the 2014 Puget Sound Travel Study at its meeting yesterday.

This graphic shows the county-to-county commuting patterns. For example, 40 percent of people who live in Snohomish County work in King County.

This graphic shows county-to-county commuting patterns of those surveyed. For example, 40 percent of the workforce in Snohomish County work in King County.

On a regionwide basis, changes have been gradual. The population is aging, as the share of older groups (65+) and the proportion of younger children (5 to 15) has declined.

The share of transit and nonmotorized trips has increased, and the share of people driving has gradually declined.

While changes at the regional scale have been slight, much larger shifts from driving were observed in urban cores of Seattle and to a lesser degree in some areas of Bellevue, Everett, and Redmond.

Between 2006 and 2014, shifting from automobiles was most pronounced for 18-24-year-olds, closely followed by 25-35-year-olds.


The study includes data on where people live and work, which shows significant commuting from Pierce and Snohomish counties to jobs in King County.

The travel study asked participants a series of questions to understand their attitudes about transportation.

Those responses indicated that increased fuel prices and more competitive, high speed transit options would have the biggest impact on whether they would use an alternative mode to get to work.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of information contained in the travel study.  You can explore the data here.

Going forward, PSRC will be conducting travel surveys on a more frequent basis.

A 2015 booster survey is currently in the field. It’s made up of 50 percent of households from the 2014 survey and 50 percent new households.  PSRC is also piloting a new method of data collection using smart phones.

You can listen to the Washington Transportation Commission presentation on TVW (starting at about 40:22).

Travel survey shows more people walking, using transit

Across the Puget Sound region, more people are taking transit and walking, while driving and riding in personal vehicles is decreasing.


Trips are shifting away from driving alone

This trend is amplified in the densest urban areas and most regional growth centers, and strongest among younger residents.

Since 1999, the region has seen a substantial shift away from drive-alone (SOV) shares to transit, though driving and riding in passenger vehicles is still the primary way that people get around the region.

For all trip purposes, the share of trips by driving alone (SOV) decreased from 48 percent in 1999, to 44 percent by 2006, and continued downward to around 42 percent by 2014. Meanwhile, the number of carpool (HOV) trips also decreased slightly.

Trips to Regional Growth Centers

Among the regional growth centers, the largest drops in SOV and HOV shares occurred in Seattle’s South Lake Union, Capitol Hill/First Hill, Downtown, and in Redmond’s Overlake and Downtown neighborhoods.

Personal vehicle shares to South Lake Union were cut in half between 2006 and 2014, while transit share increased by 50 percent and walking shares more than tripled. This change seems to reflect the boom of office, retail, and housing in the area within the past decade.


All ages show a decrease in driving alone but the trend is most pronounced in younger age groups.

Mode Share by Age

Looking at mode shares by age, the most significant decreases in auto use between 2006 and 2014 were among younger travelers.

Ages 18-24 saw the largest drop from over 85 percent auto trip share in 2006 to around 70 percent auto in 2014 (for all trip pur­poses). Those aged 25-34 saw auto modes decrease to around 74 percent over the same time as well. The trend is less pronounced for other age groups, but no age group experienced increases in auto shares between 2006 and 2014.

This data comes from the Puget Sound Travel Survey, which surveyed more than 6,000 households throughout King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties from urban, suburban, and rural locations last year.

You can learn more in the latest issue of Puget Sound Trends.

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PSRC study: Affordability top factor in where to live

Why do people choose to live where they do?  In central Puget Sound, 60% say it’s about affordability.


Of those surveyed, 6 out of 10 said affordability was most important factor in where they chose to live.

The data comes from the Puget Sound Travel Study, which surveyed more than 6,000 households last year.

It’s essential information for forecasting travel demand and planning for the future.

Given a list of nine statements, participants were instructed to rank each from “very unimportant” to “very important” (including “neither or no answer”) about why they chose to live in their current home:

  • A change in family size or marital/partner status
  • Affordability
  • Quality of schools (K-12)
  • Having a walkable neighborhood and being near local activities
  • Having space & separation from others
  • Being close to family or friends
  • Being close to public transit
  • Being close to the highway
  • Being within a 30-minute commute to work 

Affordability was the most important factor across the board. Whether broken out by county or by how long they’ve been at their residence, 6 out of 10 respondents said that was a very important reason for choosing to live where they did.

Click on the graphic to see the chart larger.

Click on the graphic to enlarge.


Snohomish County residents were more emphatic about affordability than those in King County, 66% saying that was very important versus 57% of King County residents doing so. Everywhere only 10% or less said that affordability was in any way unimportant. No other factor came close to matching those numbers.

The second most important factor chosen – “Being within a 30-minute commute to work” – lagged far behind affordability, with 42% regionally saying that factor was very important.

It’s perhaps not surprising that it was the residents in King County who were more concerned with short commutes (46% versus 36-39%). The many people choosing to live in the other three counties and still work in Seattle probably used other criteria to decide to where to live. A less-than-30-minute commute is relatively rare in such situations.

“Walkable neighborhoods and nearby local activities” and “Being close to transit” were very important factors to King County residents, while “Having space and separation from others” were more important in the other counties.

As mentioned above, “Affordability” was by far the most important factor no matter how long respondents have lived in their current home. Other factors show a lot more variance.


Those who have been in their current residence only since 2009 rated “Being close to public transit” and “Walkable neighborhoods” as more important factors than those with longer tenure. Conversely, people who have lived in the same home for 10 or more years were more likely to rate “Quality of schools” and “Having space and separation from others” as very important.

For Seattle residents, four factors stood out as very important: affordability, short commute, walkable neighborhoods, and convenient public transit. Unlike the region as a whole, more Seattleites rated “Walkable neighborhoods and nearby local activities” as “very important” than they did “Affordability” though the difference was small.



A sizable number rated two factors, “Change in family size or marital status” and “Quality of schools” as very unimportant, but for the most part, if they didn’t rate a factor as important in some way, they more often chose “Neither or N/A” rather than unimportant.

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