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

Autumn Shafer, University of Oregon


Little is known from research about how to motivate youth to choose non-car mobility, especially specific Portland-area youth. Understanding the current attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of youth in relation to non-car mobility contributes to the sustainability of a long-term transportation system. Transportation system-related beliefs and behaviors of youth are likely to influence their willingness to access and support transportation services as adults. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s riders, bikers, walkers, voters, and transportation planners. Thus, it is important to develop age-appropriate messaging strategies and tactics that promote youth non-car mobility. 

This project seeks to build on the sparse national and non-Portland regional, past, transit-related research with youth to create and evaluate communication messaging that fosters more positive attitudes, intentions, and behaviors related to transit and other non-car transportation options among Portland youth. The theory of planned behavior was applied to the interpretation of the youth focus group data collected for this project. This research also collected feedback on test messages aimed at encouraging non-car mobility among Portland youth. 

Three focus group were conducted with participants (N = 28) who were teenagers entering the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades within the boundary of the Portland Public Schools district. This study used a systematic theory-based approach that consists of two stages of research consistent with best practices in strategic message development. The first stage is pre-production, which sources an audience’s attitudes and beliefs to develop strategic messaging for a representative population. The second stage is production testing, where an audience reacts to specific messages to test the appeal and effectiveness of those messages. This study tested 15 text messages that were grouped under three themes: appeals to FOMO (fear of missing out), Generation Z empowerment, and autonomy. 

Findings addressed the following research questions: 
1: What are the non-car mobility relevant attitudes, norms, perceived behavioral control beliefs, intentions, and behaviors of Portland youth? 
2: Which communication channels and settings may be effective with Portland youth in regards to transportation system information and promotion? 
3: How are each of the communication strategy themes promoting non-car mobility perceived by Portland youth? 

Key insights found mixed attitudes related to non-car mobility that were especially dependent on which type of mobility and often based on the youth’s firsthand experience. Youth mostly held normative and perceived behavioral control beliefs supportive of non-car mobility, such as the 2 belief that most of their friends and parents support non-car mobility and the belief that it is easy to ride transit. A dominant non-supportive belief was youth’s lack of agency related to safety on public transit. Youth reported positive intentions to practice non-car mobility until they were old enough and could afford to drive. A variety of channels and settings, such as YouTube advertisements, may be effective at reaching teens, but this study concluded that teens are unlikely to subscribe and engage with text messages sent to their mobile devices. Youth responded positively to appeals to autonomy and generally disliked most of the Generation Z targeted messaging. More detailed insights and recommendations are discussed within the report.

Project Details

Project Type:
Small Starts
Project Status:
End Date:
July 01,2018
UTC Grant Cycle:
Natl Small Starts Round 3
UTC Funding: