Ridesharing and Public Transportation

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Ridesharing and Public Transportation

While numerous people use various modes of public transportation in the United States, it has been estimated that only 3.4% of the nation’s total employed population uses public transit. New York was found to have the highest rate of transit with 59% of Americans traveling to and from work. Bus and heavy rail are two of the most frequently used modes of transit and account for the largest share of ridership in the country with 47% and 38%, respectively. The average American using public transport is more likely to be female, aged between 25 and 54 years, and would most likely hold a graduate-level degree. Overall, the American public transport system sees many people from diverse communities.
When considering the use of headphones, listening to music and podcasts are among the most popular activities people engage in during their commutes. The rise in technological innovations in wireless technology has led Americans across generations to enjoy the use of headphones while traveling. Millennials and Generation Z are frequent listeners of podcasts and are more likely to listen to them while in transit. It is estimated that over 24.45% of Americans use headphones while commuting on public transportation.

Americans Using Public Transportation

  • According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), in 2018, Americans took over 9.9 billion public transit trips and boarded various modes of public transportation 34 million times per weekday. The report published by the APTA revealed that the overall public transit ridership in the United States reduced by 2%.
  • Based on the data gathered by AllTransit, the average number of Americans who use public transportation typically for work is estimated to be around 3.4% of the country’s total employed population.
  • The top ten municipalities with the highest rate of transit in the country are New York with 59% of the total employed population using public transportation for work, followed by Jersey City (50.1%), Washington (37.6%), San Francisco (36.5%), Boston (34.8%), Chicago (29.5%), Newark (26.7%), Philadelphia (26.2%), Seattle (23%), and Oakland (22.8%).
  • It was also found that over 77% of all Americans prefer to use public transportation, including ride-hailing modes such as Uber and Lyft. According to a report published by Pew Research Center, 88% of the nation’s households own a private vehicle. This implies that the other estimated 12% of American households commute by public transit. The APTA has also noted that over 45% of the country’s people “have no access to public transportation”.

Breakdown of Ridership by Mode of Public Transport

  • The breakdown of the country’s ridership in terms of percentage change based on the mode of public transportation is as follows,
    • Demand response ridership in the country rose by 2.1% in 2018.
    • Public bus ridership decreased nationwide by 1.8%. However, cities such as Las Vegas, Columbus, and Pittsburgh have recorded a rise in bus ridership in the range of 2-3%.
    • Heavy rail transit (elevated trains and subways) saw an overall decrease in ridership by 2.6%. However, regions such as Philadelphia and San Juan have noticed a positive shift in their ridership with heavy rail transport.
    • Light rail transit includes trolleys, streetcars, and heritage trolleys. This sector saw an overall decrease in its ridership by 3%.
    • The nation’s commuter rail observed a 0.41% increase in its overall ridership. The report revealed that, of the total 31 commuter rail systems, 18 systems saw a considerable rise in ridership.
  • A large percentage of people who travel by public transport prefer to use buses, trolleybuses, and heavy rail systems. In a broad perspective, over 47% of all passenger trips are made by bus and 48% of the trips are made by rail.
  • In 2017, Americans took 10.15 billion trips by public transportation with over 128.7 million trips in rural areas. According to the National Transit Database, the breakdown of the country’s ridership by mode in 2017 was 47% share by bus and trolleybus, 38% share by heavy rail, 5% share by light rail and streetcar, 5% share by commuter and hybrid rail, 2% share by demand response, and 1% share by commuter bus.

Percentage of Americans Who Use Headphones on their Commutes

  • Quantitative data shows that most Americans use headphones to listen to music (87%), watch movies (49%), listen to the radio (36%), listen to audiobooks (28%), and to call someone (25%).
  • Americans aged 18 years and above are found listening to podcasts as often as possible, with younger generations (Millennials and Gen Z) consuming this medium more than the older generations.
  • Research conducted by Audio Analytic showed that over 74% of Americans own at least two headphones.
  • Several surveys conducted over the years have revealed that people crave some form of entertainment, such as music, while on the go. One such survey conducted this year by AssociationsNow had Americans describing what they did during their commute by public transportation. A majority of the people surveyed admitted listening to music, podcasts, radio, and news channels.
  • Another study conducted by Driving-Tests revealed that, on average, over 35.6% of Americans prefer listening to music during their commute via public transportation as compared to 73.6% of those who drive themselves. About 13.3% of Americans listen to podcasts on public transportation while 26.8% of them prefer listening to podcasts while driving.
  • With the available data, the percentage of Americans who wear headphones during their commute can be estimated by taking two of the most common types of activities into consideration — listening to music and listening to podcasts.
    • The average percentage of Americans who wear headphones during their commute = [(Percentage of Americans listening to music on public transport + Percentage of Americans listening to podcasts on public transport)/2]
    • The average percentage of Americans who wear headphones during their commute = [(35.6% + 13.3%)/2] = 24.45%
  • Therefore, the average percentage of Americans who wear headphones during their commute using public transportation is estimated to be around 24.45%. With the population of the United States reaching 335.25 million this year, an average of 81.96 million commuters is estimated to wear headphones on public transit.
    • Estimated number of American commuters wearing headphones on public transportation = [Percentage of people who wear headphones during their commute x Current population of the United States]
    • Estimated number of American commuters wearing headphones on public transportation = 24.45% of 335.25 million = 81.96 million commuters
  • A report published by Audio Analytic revealed that over 37 million Americans have endangered themselves by wearing headphones in public. The report showed that 72% of respondents consider wearing headphones dangerous while commuting on public transportation while 86% believe it’s dangerous to wear headphones while running.

Demographic Profile — Americans Who Use Public Transportation

  • The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reported that the country’s millennials view public modes of transport as the best means for socializing digitally and connecting with various communities. Over 79% of all American commuters are aged between 25 and 54 years, 14% are aged below 25 years, and the remaining 7% belong to the Baby Boomer generation.
  • The 2017 APTA report indicated that most public transport commuters are women. Over 45% of people commuting by public transportation are male while 55% are female.
Income Level
Educational Level
  • The APTA report indicates that over 51% of all public transit commuters have some form of graduate-level education or a bachelor’s degree. About 40% of American commuters have a college degree or have completed high school while 8% of commuters have not completed high school.
  • The report also reveals that over 71% of all commuters are employed and 7% are found to be students.
  • In 2017, over 6.9% of the total workforce used public transit. While a majority of the country’s employed population travel by private vehicles (primarily cars), there has been a steady rise in the use of public transportation by the employed class since 2009 (5.1%).
  • According to another report published by APTA on the key characteristics of commuters, 78% of commuters are either employed or preparing to be employed, 7% of commuters are retired Americans, 6% are found to be unemployed, and 3% of the public transit commuters are homemakers.
  • Most of the American commuters who use public transportation are White. It has been identified that 60% of public transport users belong to communities of color while 40% are Caucasian commuters.
  • Over 85% of transit commuters speak English, 12% speak primarily Spanish, and over 3% speak various other languages.
  • Further classification revealed that the average American per household takes over 50 annual trips in regions with a population of 1 million to 2.9 million, 42 annual trips in regions with a population of 500,000 to 1 million, 34 annual trips in areas with 250,000 to 499,999 people, and 33 annual trips in regions with a population less than 250,000.

Demographic Profile — Americans Who Use Headphones on their Commutes

  • Many people in the United States, especially the younger generations, prefer to keep themselves occupied with their digital devices during transit. Surveys have noted that Americans spend a large portion of their transit time with popular activities such as listening to music, podcasts, news, and the radio.
  • The most popular activities that people engage in while commuting (listening to podcasts and music) have been analyzed to draw the demographic profile of Americans who use headphones on commute.
  • Millennials and Gen Zers are considered to be more focused on digital innovations than the older generations and therefore, spend most of their transit time engrossed with their smartphones. In 2018, a survey conducted by Sol Republic revealed that over 53% of millennials have at least three sets of headphones and are used for over 4 hours each day.
  • In terms of the most popular activity of listening to music while commuting, it was found that 36% of Generation Z aged between 18 and 24 years wear headphones, followed by 26% of millennials aged between 25 and 34 years, and 14% of Americans aged over 35 years.
  • In terms of the activity of listening to podcasts while commuting, the study published by Digital News Report indicated that 30% of Americans who listen to podcasts regularly on public transit are under 35 years of age while 20% are above 35 years.
  • According to Podcast Insights, 56% of all American podcast listeners are male while the remaining 44% are female. Therefore, it can be estimated that Americans using headphones while commuting are more likely to be male.
Income Level
  • According to a survey conducted by EX-IQ, an educational app powered by artificial intelligence, over 34.1% of daily podcast listeners earn between $50,000 and $75,000 while 32.6% of daily podcast listeners earn between $75,000 and $100,000 per annum. Therefore, it can be estimated that the average working American using headphones to listen to podcasts while commuting earns between $50,000 and $100,000 per year.
Educational Level
  • Based on the insights published by Nielsen in 2017, 27% of all American podcast listeners are found to have a four-year college degree as opposed to 19% of the total country’s population.
  • Podcast Insights also reveal that women listeners belong to a higher income bracket and have a higher education than their male counterparts.
  • The 2017 Nielsen report on Podcast Insights indicated that 36% of American podcast listeners are not white (non-Caucasian). Based on data published by Edison research, 59% of podcast listeners are Caucasian, 12% are African-American, 11% are Hispanic, and 7% are Asian.

Research Strategy

We began our search by looking into industry-specific reports from websites such as Mass Transit, government databases such as the National Transit Database and the APTA, market research reports from websites such as Pew Research, statistical databases such as AllTransit, and media reports from websites such as Forbes. After an extensive search through these channels, we found a wide variety of information on public transportation in the United States. The most detailed reports that were found provide information for the year 2017 with limited data covering just the highlights for years 2018 and 2019. While there is no direct data available on the percentage of people who use public transit, we were able to find information pertaining to various subsets such as the number of trips made annually, number of miles covered, percentage of employed people who use public transport, and ridership percentage of each mode of public transportation. We then attempted to calculate an estimated figure for the percentage of Americans who use public transportation. With the state-wise statistics provided by AllTransit Ranking, we were able to triangulate the average percentage of commuters who use transit primarily for work in the United States.
While direct information on the percentage of Americans who use headphones while commuting was unavailable, we were able to find several studies and reports that indicated people spending their time during transit on activities that would require the use of headphones. We were then able to estimate an average figure (%) based on the available data, primarily focusing on the most popular activities of listening to music and podcasts.
Research to create a demographic profile of Americans who use public transportation was fairly straightforward. However, we found limited information on how commuters spend their transit time along with their demographic details. Most of the reports found on the subject were dated with the most recent study published in 2011. We then expanded our search to include nation-wide customer surveys, regional customer surveys, and reports published by some of the largest metropolitan cities in the United States. A large number of the reports found included data points that reveal the psychographics of commuters, covering aspects such as the perception of people wearing headphones, habits, and attitudes. We then shifted our focus to analyze the transit users in terms of the most popular activities that would require one to wear headphones while commuting. As a result, the age, gender, education level, income level, and ethnicity of individuals partaking in these activities have been compiled.