Gen Z: Getting from Point A to Point B

At San Jose State University, more than 50 graphic design students spent a semester visualizing the future of transportation. Here’s some lessons learned from their creative work — and life experience.

One of our core design classes I teach at San Jose State University requires students to choose a complex topic and wrap their minds around it to develop a public awareness campaign. The student body is incredibly diverse, and that diversity is also reflected in their chosen modes of transportation. San Jose State University has a reputation as a “commuter school” with the majority of its 30,000 students traveling long distances—often driving one or even two hours in traffic—to get to class. However many students use skateboards or electric scooters to zip from nearby apartments or dorm rooms to their classroom.

As a designer who works with numerous public transit agencies, I recognize that public transportation is struggling to attract and retain younger riders. This class presented a mini-lab where I could gain insight into what makes Gen-Z commuters tick. Here are some takeaways:

  1. Many students have an uncomfortable relationship with the automobile. They may fantasize about a dream car and the prestige it communicates, but recognize that cars are a major source of CO2 emissions that are a primary cause of climate change.
  2. Most don’t want to responsibility and expense of owning a car. However many students are reliant on the car to get them to school and work. They wish there was an alternative.
  3. Buses are just not cool. Sitting in close proximity to other riders in a slow, noisy bus is not an appealing transportation option. Period.
  4. A huge obstacle to transit, not just among students but unversally, is the “last mile”.  How do people connect from a transit stop or station to their end destination? Electric scooters, skateboards, folding bikes are a possible solution. Ridesharing is also an alternative but not always an affordable option for students.
  5. Where is the innovation? Students know that emerging technologies such as self-driving cars or high-speed trains promise huge shifts in how we get around. When will these be accessible and affordable to the general public?