The Millennials are coming to San Antonio, and it is going to change the transportation picture in our city. According to a recent Bloomberg report, San Antonio’s Millennial population grew by 30% between 2000-2013, beating out the “ultra-hip” Austin by 2%. The booming job market plays a big part in that increase – job growth is expected to surpass that of the entire state in 2015, earning it a top spot (#16) on Forbes’ list of Best Places for Businesses and Careers, with most of those jobs in business and professional services, biomedical and energy.
This generation of Millennials, those that came of age around the turn of the millennium, bring with them intrinsic values that will force change. Two of those are workplace satisfaction and work-life balance. This generation works hard, but they also like to play and relax and want options easily available to them. Their preference to rent rather than buy increases their ability to easily relocate, requiring employers and cities to work harder to retain them. To keep them here, San Antonio must adapt to the Millennials flocking to our growing downtown and provide transportation options to meet their needs.
A recent Rockefeller study showed 66% of Millennials consider access to high-quality transportation options as one of their top three criteria in deciding where to live. The same survey indicated that 46% of Millennials would prefer to give up their car, due to high maintenance costs and environmental concerns, if their cities offered reliable transportation options.
The only current non-personal vehicle transportation options for those living within the downtown San Antonio area are the VIA bus system, the B-Cycle bike rental system (which has struggled to find sufficient funding and major corporate sponsors commonly found in other major cities with bikeshare programs), walking, and taxicabs. Each of these options has its drawbacks.
While our beautiful climate may seem conducive to leisurely strolls, San Antonio, with a “walkability score” of 34, has few truly walkable neighborhoods to offer a generation that values the convenience and health benefits of walking. For example, while the growing condo developments in the 1200-1300 block of Broadway have easy access to restaurants and bars at the Pearl (and within their own complexes, i.e. GS 1221, Sobro, and Tacos & Tequila), the closest grocery store is almost three miles away, and the closest pharmacy is one mile away.
The VIA bus works well for bringing people from the suburbs into the urban area, but not so much for urban dwellers. Most buses run at 30-minute intervals and stop running around 10 p.m., with the exception of the once-an-hour downtown lineup running back out to the suburbs. VIA recently premiered a free looping “entertainment bus,” The E, however the route runs in an “L” shaped loop that runs from the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts to the Rivercenter Mall area. While The E is great for tourists that are staying in the Tobin area hotels and wanting to see the Riverwalk or Alamo, it is not practical for Millennials seeking out local flavor in the Pearl corridor or Southtown. Many of the businesses that benefit from The E traffic are tourist-oriented chain restaurants and bars like Howl at the Moon and the Rainforest Cafe and chain hotels like the Marriott and Hilton, not locally owned places favored by Millennials like the acclaimed Asian fusion eatery Hot Joy (one of Bon Appetit’s 2014 Hot 10), the craft beer mecca The Friendly Spot, and the historic Liberty Bar.
Taxis are plentiful downtown – on certain nights on certain streets. However, many young people have expressed having negative experiences, including drivers refusing to drive short fares, accepting only cash payments (this generation grew up not carrying cash, and use electronic media such as debit cards and PayPal for most transactions), rude behavior and unclean cars. Although the taxi industry recently premiered an app-based system where you can request a cab with your smartphone, this system is often unreliable as drivers sometimes arrive and still refuse the fare. In addition, taxis are an expensive option, with an average fare from 1200 Broadway down to Southtown running $10-12.
The one transportation option that is not available to this generation but highly desired is rideshare. Apps such as Uber and Lyft offer on-demand, cashless, affordable rides, and are mainstays in cities such as Austin, San Francisco, Dallas, and Chicago. (I have driven for rideshare companies myself.) A recent survey by Zogby Analytics stated that more than half of the Millennials surveyed have used sharing services like Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, and AirBnB (a similar app for securing lodging).
Additionally, this generation likes to play, and 12.7% of them reported using ridesharing apps when going out for drinks with friends, and 13% for going out to big events like sports events and concerts. This is critical for a city where DWI arrests average more than 7,000 per year. Despite this high desire and popularity, providers Lyft and Uber recently shuttered their services in San Antonio when they couldn’t come to an agreement with the City over regulations governing the industry.
Travelers to the city, including businesses hoping to relocate and prospective new hires, have complained that they are so used to using these transportation services that they automatically open the app when arriving to our city, only to find the dreaded sign, “N/A,” or Not Available. This issue is particularly prevalent for visitors from tech heavy cities like Seattle and San Francisco where Uber and Lyft are as common as the corner Starbucks. A recent technology conference, Pax South, which brought 40,000 convention goers to our city, listed rideshare availability (at the time) as one of the factors in choosing San Antonio. Whether they return in 2016 without rideshare remains to be known.
Millennials, this highly desired, educated, tech savvy generation critical to the future of our city, want transportation options. They want to live in vibrant, growing urban areas and the San Antonio housing market is meeting that demand by building multi-family units along the Broadway corridor and So-Flo (South Flores) area (demonstrated by the more than 1800 multi-family units planned and recently permitted). They are attracted by the growing job market, vibrant culture and beautiful climate. Let’s not turn them away by not meeting their transportation needs.
*Featured/top image: Elena Barnett’s dashboard, complete with Lyft’s signature mustache and a stuffed Spurs fan. Photo by Elena Barnett.