Reconnecting with US Public Transit

Trends / Sustainability
Ezra Bailey
Gabrielle Pedro Fredrick
Jun 28, 2023
In 2021, the number of people working from home in a metropolitan area doubled1 compared to pre‑pandemic levels. And while we still grapple with fluctuating remote work policies2 and advocating for flexible work3, there may be other factors to consider outside of employee productivity and location. For instance, did you know that the top reason4 employees prefer to work from home is to avoid the commute? Before the pandemic, commuters were wasting over 54 hours a year stuck in traffic5 – more than an entire work week. Yikes.

Overall, we’re thinking less about public transportation now that the COVID‑19 pandemic has completely changed the way we work – but this also is a real opportunity for brands to help us rethink how we picture public transportation in popular imagery to reflect a new, more authentic depiction of our metropolitan consumers and their changing values and behaviors. 
How does this show up in imagery?
Even amidst fluctuations in work flexibility and housing markets, people are still flocking to cities. According to the last census6, the number of people moving to urban areas has grown in the last decade. In fact, 80% of the United States population now lives in a metropolitan area and take approximately7 10 billion trips on public transit systems annually.

Despite 1 in 3 Americans relying on public transport8 to commute, it makes up less than 1% of popular images downloaded by Getty Images US customers. The images that are frequently seen bring back hectic memories of the morning rush, weaving in and out of hundreds of other people trying to make that bus or train on time.

Commuting isn’t hectic anymore. Brands can now reframe how consumers travel. People living in cities such as New York, Washington DC, or Chicago are still utilizing public transportation to meet friends, go out to eat, and live their lives outside of the commute to and from work – and the way we visualize public transportation can evolve past the anxiety‑inducing bustle of work travel.
Consumers care for the planet – and expect brands to do the same
Aside from the professional commute, Americans recognize the impact that public transportation or other modes such as biking, ebiking, or electric scooters, can have on the environment. Getty Images' VisualGPS research reveals that 1 out of 5 Americans believe that eco‑friendly transportation methods are one of the best ways to practice sustainability and have a positive impact on the planet. In fact, a quarter of Americans are already making sustainable transportation resources, such as mass transit, bicycles, or electric/hybrid and this number is rising.  So visuals of people on public transportation can reflect a more authentic representation of users ‑ older adults, people with disabilities, and commuters such as women, young adults, people of color, and low‑income workers who are more likely9 to rely on public transportation.

There’s also another added benefit when considering these visual choices. It’s no secret that public transportation is more cost‑effective10 and can be over 76% more sustainable11 than driving.  As America grapples with its parking crisis and the transition to electric vehicles12, there are other ways to demonstrate a commitment to the climate and better connect with consumers seeking to support brands who better represent their values. Thanks to VisualGPS, we know that more than half of Americans only buy from brands that try to be eco‑friendly – and reconnecting with US public transit in visuals can be a great way to communicate that message.

1) The Number of People Primarily Working From Home Tripled Between 2019 and 2021 (US Census Bureau)
2) CEOs are quietly backtracking on remote work—and more companies could follow (CNBC)
3) Swipe your badge or get fired? Employers and workers face a reckoning over returning to the office. (Insider)
4) The Future of Hybrid Work: 5 Key Questions Answered With Data (Gallup)
5) Commuters waste an average of 54 hours a year stalled in traffic, study says (CNN)
6) Nation’s Urban and Rural Populations Shift Following 2020 Census (US Census Bureau)
7) Still recovering from COVID‑19, US public transit tries to get back on track (The Conversation)
8) Cars still dominate the American commute (World Economic Forum)
9) Public Transportation In The US: A Driver Of Health And Equity (
10) Invest in infrastructure: People need access to public transit (The Hill)
11) Not All Public Transportation Systems Are Sustainable—Here’s How They Can Be (Forbes)
12) Electric Cars and the Next Generation of Auto (Getty Images' Creative Insights)

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