New Report: Long-Term Drop in How Much People Drive, Youth Desire More Transportation Options
From the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund:
The report, Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less and What it Means for Transportation Policy, shows that young people in particular are decreasing the amount they drive and increasing their use of transportation alternatives.
“For the first time in two generations, there has been a significant shift in how many miles Americans are driving each year,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Transportation Analyst for U.S. PIRG Education Fund and a co-author of the report. “America needs to understand these trends when deciding how to focus our future transportation investments, especially when transportation dollars are so scarce.”
Transportation and the New Generation reveals that for the first time since World War II, Americans are driving less. The report shows that by 2011, the average American was driving 6 percent fewer miles per year than in 2004.
This trend away from driving is even more pronounced among young people. The average young person (age 16-34) drove 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than the average young person in 2001. The report also notes that a growing number of young Americans do not have driver’s licenses; from 2000 to 2010, the share of 14 to 34-year-olds without a license increased from 21 percent to 26 percent.
According to the report, between 2001 and 2009, the annual number of miles traveled by 16 to 34 year olds on public transit such as trains and buses increased by 40 percent.
Relatedly GM is worried about the decline in youth interest in automobile purchasing, so they've joined in with MTV. See "As Young Lose Interest in Cars, G.M. Turns to MTV for Help" from the New York Times. From the Times article:
He and his team are trying to help General Motors solve one of the most vexing problems facing the car industry: many young consumers today just do not care that much about cars.
That is a major shift from the days when the car stood at the center of youth culture and wheels served as the ultimate gateway to freedom and independence. Young drivers proudly parked Impalas at a drive-in movie theater, lusted over cherry red Camaros as the ultimate sign of rebellion or saved up for a Volkswagen Beetle on which to splash bumper stickers and peace signs. Today Facebook, Twitter and text messaging allow teenagers and 20-somethings to connect without wheels. High gas prices and environmental concerns don’t help matters.
“They think of a car as a giant bummer,” said Mr. Martin. “Think about your dashboard. It’s filled with nothing but bad news.”
There is data to support Mr. Martin’s observations. In 2008, 46.3 percent of potential drivers 19 years old and younger had drivers’ licenses, compared with 64.4 percent in 1998, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and drivers ages 21 to 30 drove 12 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 1995.
Forty-six percent of drivers aged 18 to 24 said they would choose Internet access over owning a car, according to the research firm Gartner.
Cars are still essential to drivers of all ages, and car cultures still endure in swaths of suburban and rural areas. But automobiles have fallen in the public estimation of younger people. In a survey of 3,000 consumers born from 1981 to 2000 — a generation marketers call “millennials”— Scratch asked which of 31 brands they preferred. Not one car brand ranked in the top 10, lagging far behind companies like Google and Nike.
Still, the question will be whether or not these are long term "cohort-significant" behavior changes or a function of other factors, but in any case, this is a trend worth tracking. Of course, as long as most places aren't walkable-livable-bikeable-transit friendly, only on very long time frames we will be able to see these if these kinds of attitudinal changes are permanent.
In any case, this is the kind of data we need to use to justify continued investment in walking, biking, streetscape improvements, and transit.
Relatedly, I forgot a very good point made by a presenter at the Bike Summit, that something like 15% of all trips are walking and biking (mostly walking), but there is no way that 15% of transportation funding is directed to active and sustainable transportation modes.