Engaging Youth to Increase their Transportation System Support, Understanding, and Use

Transportation system planners, such as the Portland Bureau of Transportation and TriMet, have to think about sustainable long-term visions for their transportation systems, which includes engaging today's youth as current consumers and tomorrow’s decision makers. Promoting support for and use of a planned transportation system (e.g., transit, bike paths) among youth helps contribute to a safe, healthy, and sustainable transportation system and foster livable communities by providing secure mobility to a segment of the public typically restricted in their transportation choices (i.e., may not be old enough to drive or can't afford a car). Increasing non-car mobility among youth is also strategic to help grow and sustain long-term use of non-car transportation options because the transportation system related beliefs and behaviors of youth are likely to influence their willingness to access transportation services, such as transit, as adults (Cain, 2006). Encouraging youth to understand and engage with non-car transportation options may also increase their interest in transportation systems, which could translate into future transportation system support through voting, citizen engagement, and interest in a transportation-related career (Cain, 2006). Thus, it is important for transportation communities to actively communicate with youth who are or could be future transit riders or who have access to other non-car options (i.e., bike/walk paths). However, communicating what young audiences may see as complex or dry information in a way that is motivating and engaging requires specialized age-appropriate communication strategies and tactics that must be developed and tested for effectiveness. Few, if any, studies have empirically evaluated transportation system promotion efforts aimed at youth. One study, however, conducted extensive formative research on the types of transit messaging that might work with teenagers and recommended three potential communication strategies that could be successful with teenagers: (1) highlight how transit allows teens to be more independent and less reliant on their parents for transportation, (2) highlight the safety benefits of using transit compared to the responsibility of driving, and (3) highlight the high cost of car travel and the better uses of their money to save for things teens care about (e.g., clothes) (Cain, 2006). At least two transportation reports have also discussed the implementation of youth-target transit campaigns in terms of the development and materials created, but only process (distribution) evaluation data was available rather than outcome evaluation data on the effectiveness of the materials (Cain, Hamer, & Sibley-Perone, 2005; Lindsey, Ratner, & Freeman, 2003). This project seeks to build on this past transit-related research with youth to create and empirically evaluate communication materials that foster more positive attitudes, intentions, and behavior related to transit and other non-car transportation options. Secondary outcomes should improve knowledge of how to access information from and/or engage with transportation system agencies and willingness to talk/recommend non-car mobility options to others. Lastly, this project will investigate the engagement strength of delivering non-car mobility promotion messaging to youth via text/graphics sent to their mobile phones. Using mobile phones to deliver campaign messages is likely to be less costly than print materials, which are commonly used, and when automated, require minimal staff oversight. The use of mobile phones as marketing outreach tools is increasing as teen access to mobile phones increases. Of U.S. 13-14 year olds, 68% own a smart phone, 14% own a basic phone, and just 18% do not have their own phone (Lenhart, 2015). The mobile phone ownership numbers are expected to increase over time and also rise as teens get older, are higher among Black teens and teens living in urban areas (Lenhart, 2015). The Portland area is an appropriate region for pilot testing these strategic communication materials because of their willingness to support such work (see attached letter from the Portland Bureau of Transportation) and system support through programs such as Safe Routes to School, youth transit fare discounts, and the free TriMet rider pass for high school students in Portland Public Schools. Since the free rider pass begins in high school, this study will focus on eighth graders who are transitioning to high school in anticipation of their increased opportunity to access transit services and also increased independence in making transportation decisions.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Funding: $30000
  • Contract Numbers:

    NITC 1077

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

    University Transportation Centers Program
    Department of Transportation
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    University of Oregon

    1275 University of Oregon
    Eugene, Oregon  United States  97403-1275
  • Managing Organizations:

    TREC at Portland State University

    1900 SW Fourth Ave, Suite 175
    P.O. Box 751
    Portland, Oregon  United States  97201
  • Project Managers:

    Hagedorn, Hau

  • Performing Organizations:

    University of Oregon

    1275 University of Oregon
    Eugene, Oregon  United States  97403-1275
  • Principal Investigators:

    Shafer, Autumn

  • Start Date: 20161101
  • Expected Completion Date: 20180801
  • Actual Completion Date: 20181217
  • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers Program

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01613091
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: National Institute for Transportation and Communities
  • Contract Numbers: NITC 1077
  • Files: UTC, RIP
  • Created Date: Oct 11 2016 1:35PM