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A Xerox mobility solutions senior vice president weighs in on the relatively understudied Generation Z, autonomous vehicles and how the two will intersect to fuel future urban economic development.
Cities want to develop mobility-as-a-service models catering to not just millennials, who have embraced the sharing economy, but also members of the so-called "Generation Z," who will enter the U.S. workforce as autonomous vehicles hit streets.
Millennials spurred the success of on-demand ride-booking companies like Uber and home-sharing companies like Airbnb, inspiring urban mobility companies to create apps seamlessly linking all available transportation options within cities.
Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2007, is less understood by researchers but appears to continue millennial trends of decreasing rates of car ownership and declining levels of people holding a driver’s license, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
“Millennials are now the largest percentage of workers in urban areas, which want them to stay within city limits because it gives them a competitive advantage,” David Cummins, a Xerox mobility solutions senior vice president, said in an interview. “They will be more innovative cities. It’s a significant source of economic development to lure in and keep the Gen Y and Z workers with things like affordable housing and mobility.”
Just look at Centennial, Colorado, located in the southeastern portion of Denver’s metro area with a population of more than 106,000 residents. The city is a burgeoning tech hub that’s attracted big names like Arrow in recent years and is also home to many Denver commuters.
In partnership with the Bloomberg Foundation, Centennial has worked to address its first- and last-mile problems—the barriers of getting commuters to the closest public transit stops from their homes and workplaces respectively. Centennial’s solution: subsidize the commutes of patrons living or working within a 1-mile radius of the city by having Lyft and taxis pick up their fares to transit stops.
The hope is that, if you market the no-cost service and convenience to employees of local businesses plus homeowners and apartment dwellers within Centennial’s orbit, people will convert to the service, Cummins said.
“For my generation it was a right of passage to get your driver’s license,” he said. “Your first car was, in a way, a reflection of your identity and gave you a sense of freedom.”
Transportation for more utilitarian millennials and Gen Zers is a means to an end and freedom the ability to subscribe or pay as you go for whatever mode of travel you choose. In short: It’s a service, not an object.
Coupled with the last recession, which made car ownership more of an economic burden, and changing demographics, and immigrant cultural attitudes and vehicles seem less of a priority.
“If anything, Gen Z is adapting to the options in front of them that earlier generations didn’t have,” Cummins said.
U.S. cities are beginning to provide those new options, following the lead of their European counterparts in emphasizing public transit while limiting or restricting the use of personal vehicles within city limits or their downtowns.
Carsharing, bikesharing and bus rapid transit (BRT), where they don’t cause more congestion, are encouraged by many forward-thinking cities.
The self-driving vehicle will, in many ways, be the vehicle of Gen Z. As with BRT, dedicated autonomous vehicle shuttle lanes will be added to cities’ arterials—driving further adoption.
“When they come online en masse, you’re going to have these owned not by individuals but by corporations: Google, Uber, Lyft and Ford,” Cummins said. “Fleets of shuttles or cars that are self-driving for mobility-as-a-service that, from a commuting perspective, whether you live or work in an urban area you’ll predominately get to your workplace via them.”