Montana State University

MSU research on rural millennials featured by WIRED

February 27, 2017 -- MSU News Service

WIRED magazine's website has featured findings by a Western Transportation Institute researcher who studied the transportation habits and attitudes of millennials in Montana and other rural states. WTI photo by Neil Hetherington.

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BOZEMAN - A Montana State University researcher’s analysis of the transportation habits of rural millennials has been featured by WIRED magazine.

The WIRED article, “Rural Millennials still dig driving. Well, they have no choice,” featured a study conducted by Natalie Villwock-Witte, a research engineer at the Western Transportation Institute in MSU’s College of Engineering. The article appeared on WIRED magazine’s website on Jan. 26.

According to Villwock-Witte, the study, which surveyed over 2,500 people in Minnesota, Montana, Washington and Wisconsin, is likely the most comprehensive survey of the transportation habits and attitudes of rural millennials. The study defined millennials as being born between 1983 and 2000.

Because millennials have surpassed baby boomers (defined as being born between 1946 and 1964) as the largest living generation, understanding their transportation wants and needs is important for planning transportation systems over the coming decades, Villwock-Witte said.

Compared to the baby boomer generation, which embraced the personal automobile, U.S. Census data has shown that millennials are migrating to cities, where they have access to a wider range of transportation options, such as buses and bicycle infrastructure, Villwock-Witte said. But until her study, little was known about the transportation habits of millennials in rural areas of the U.S.

According to the study, 87 percent of rural millennials prefer driving themselves to work, compared to 75 percent of urban millennials. That in part reflects the limited alternatives to the automobile in most rural areas, Villwock-Witte said.

The study also revealed some interesting findings specific to Montana. Compared to older generations, Montana millennials are more likely to prefer a greater number of options for getting to work, school and recreation. For example, Bozeman survey respondents showed an interest in additional bicycle facilities; Billings respondents showed more interest in sidewalks; and Great Falls may be interested in adding more public transportation services. 

“I think there may be more interest in other transportation modes in rural areas than was previously thought,” Villwock-Witte said. “It may be a good time to take a closer look at opportunities that give people more choices in how they get from place to place,” she added.

The study was conducted by the Small Urban and Rural Livability Center in cooperation with the transportation departments of the participating states.  The Small Urban and Rural Livability Center (SURLC) is designated as a Tier 1 University Transportation Center by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which provided a significant portion of the funding for the study. SURLC is led by the WTI in partnership with the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University.

The full report can be accessed at

Natalie Villwock-Witte, or (505) 340-3570

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