College grads looking for transportation alternatives to driving

A new report suggests college graduates in the state are more likely to settle somewhere that provides transportation alternatives to driving.

The report, titled “Millennials on the Move,” is from the nonprofit Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group Foundation. The organization surveyed 612 college students at 24 campuses around the state.

More than half of surveyed students said they would be more likely to stay in Wisconsin after college if they could live in a place where work, errands and recreation were all reachable without having a car.

And three-fourths of respondents said it was important to have transportation options other than a car.

The study authors say the state’s current spending priorities could “undermine” its ability to attract and retain young people. They say the state has historically spent more on expanding highway capacity, “often at the expense of investment in non-driving modes.”

Lead author Emma Fisher says businesses across the country are moving to more urban areas, which come with amenities such as designated bike lanes, bus systems and many options for walking.

“To be able to recruit the young people they need, state leaders should be considering investing in places that will grow that pool of young talented workers,” Fisher told

She notes that Madison, the state’s second-largest city, is growing faster than the rest of the state. She says that’s because city leaders are “leaning in” to young people’s changing transportation preferences.

It’s noted in the report that Millennials made up 26.8 percent of Madison’s population in 2015, marking the fifth highest percentage of that age group in any U.S. city.

In the report, Fisher and WISPIRG State Director Peter Skopec call on lawmakers at the state and national level to “drastically” increase funding for “multimodal” transportation options. That includes public transit, walking and biking infrastructure, and intercity bus and rail networks.

“Today’s young people will be the primary users of Wisconsin’s transportation system for decades to come — and they are leading the shift to more multimodal lifestyles,” study authors write.

They point to some factors driving Millennials’ decreased reliance on driving themselves, such as the rise of new technologies and services like Uber that make it easier to get around.

At the same time, apps for tracking buses as well as free public wifi on trains and buses are making the traditional public transit options more attractive to Millennials.

Surveyed students said they want to reduce the cost of driving and multitask on their commute. Still, 85 percent of survey respondents said they plan to own a car after graduating.

The survey results were similar for on-campus residents and those who commute, as well as for full- and part-time students.

When asked why alternatives to driving were important, respondents’ top three reasons were: they’re better for the environment, they help them save money, and they help them avoid parking and associated fees.

Though Madison is used by study authors as a strong example of a city adapting to changing preferences, they also highlight changes happening in Eau Claire and La Crosse.

Between 2010 and 2017, Eau Claire’s population had a 3 percent growth rate — second in the state only to Madison. And for people aged 20 to 34, population grew by more than 6 percent, the study shows. Now, people in that age range make up nearly one-third of Eau Claire’s 68,000 residents.

In La Crosse, the report shows the average age is around 28 years old, while the state average is 39. Study authors say that’s due in part to city and county leaders pushing for more transit options for cyclists and pedestrians.

See the full report: