Traditionally transit has recognized two distinct kinds of passengers. One kind is called the "transit dependent". The transit dependent have no car available for trips, either because they cannot afford one or due to physical or mental difficulties they cannot obtain a driver license. These groups of people have no other choice but to take transit, no matter how poor the service is. When all other riders have left they will be the ones who remain.
The other kind of passenger is the "choice rider." The choice rider has an automobile available, but on at least some trips he or she chooses to take transit, primarily because it is faster or cheaper to take transit. The choice rider is very sensitive to issues such as cleanliness of the bus, friendliness of the bus driver, and perceptions of safety on transit. If any of the above are lacking then the choice rider will return to driving. Perhaps because virtually all transit planners would be considered choice riders since they make enough money to own automobiles, choice riders are what public transit agencies focus on.
Recently a new kind of passenger has emerged. This new kind of passenger, which I will call the "green" passenger, makes enough money to be able to afford to drive but chooses to live without a car for environmental reasons. These passengers are usually young, ride bicycles and walk frequently, and desire to live an urban lifestyle. I expect this class of passenger to dramatically rise in number in the future as studies show more and more young people with no desire to even obtain a driver license but with strong desires to live in dense, urban, walkable communities. How should transit systems view this new "green" passenger?
The "green" passenger should be viewed as an upgraded version of the transit dependent. These passengers know that taking transit is a hardship in many cities, and they are O.K. with long waits and unclean conditions. However, these passengers have a great desire to live their entire life car free, and require at least a basic level of service nights and weekends so they can go out to their various activities. To satisfy the green passenger I would look to extending the service span later at night and operating more routes on weekends.
The green passenger is also very interested in using technology to access information about transit and to see improved bicycle facilities at system infrastructure. Implementation of Google Transit and other interfaces will impress the green passenger and is likely to result in increased ridership at low cost. In terms of bicycles, at a minimum racks should be installed on the front of all buses; preferably the racks that hold three bikes, as these are becoming more commonplace. Bicycle parking at key transit hubs will also be very useful, and federal grants exist to upgrade bicycle infrastructure so the transit system itself will have to come up with relatively little money for these improvements.
Because of the three passenger types described above the green passenger is the one that is likely to have the most positive view of transit, the green passenger is an ideal passenger to have on transit advisory boards and other community consultation opportunities. In fact, in at least one instance a public transit system had its Google Transit interface developed for free by a green passenger.
Believe it or not, focusing on the green passenger can benefit the city because improved transit systems will attract more green passengers to the city. As an example, one reason why All Star major league pitcher Cliff Lee decided to play for Philadelphia rather than Texas is because his wife would be able to utilize SEPTA's excellent commuter rail system in Philadelphia, but would have to drive everywhere in Arlington, Texas as Arlington has no public transit system of any kind.
Focusing on the green passenger means focusing on people who have a strong desire to use your product and have, through their own volition, forsaken any opportunity to use the competition. This focus is a smart move for transit both today and in the future.