Teenage Mobility in the United States: Issues and Opportunities for Promoting Public Transit


Alasdair Cain

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - reliability, planning - safety/accidents, planning - surveys, planning - marketing/promotion, planning - education, ridership - mode choice, ridership - young people, ridership - young people, policy - fares, mode - mass transit


Youths, United States, Travel costs, Transit, Teenagers, Tampa (Florida), Surveys, Safety measures, Safety, Reliability of service, Public transit, Public safety, Passes (Transportation), Mode choice, Modal choice, Mobility, Miami (Florida), Mass transit, Marketing, Local transit, Focus groups, Education, Discount fares, Decision making, Choice of transportation, Adolescents, Accessibility


This study was designed to investigate teenagers’ perceptions of public transit within the context of the wider issue of teenage mobility. Results showed a number of significant restrictions on teenage mobility in the United States, including driving age regulations, travel costs, parental safety concerns, and low-density development patterns that limit walking and cycling. As such, teenagers are an obvious market segment for transit agencies to target. Teenager–parent pairs were recruited to participate in a series of eight focus group sessions conducted in Tampa and Miami, Florida. Qualitative analyses of these sessions revealed a set of five mobility themes that play a major role in determining teenagers’ mode choice decisions: safety, cost, access–availability, reliability, and image. In many situations, teenagers viewed private vehicles as having distinct advantages over transit. However, some advantages associated with transit were identified, including independent mobility, travel cost, and travel safety. Different marketing messages that could be used to exploit these potential advantages were developed. A survey of transit agencies across the country was conducted to assess industry experience with promoting transit to teenagers. This survey showed that three different program types—educational programs, reduced fares, and transit passes—are used to promote transit to teenagers. Major marketing challenges included addressing the negative social image associated with transit, gaining the cooperation of school systems and parents, and retaining program budgets. The paper concludes with a series of recommendations for transit agencies interested in implementing, or improving, programs that target teenage riders.