Follow us on Twitter

Young people really are driving less

Another article on changing travel patterns – this time looking at the driving habits of younger Americans:

An April study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that between 2001 and 2009 the average annual vehicle miles traveled by Americans ages 16 to 34 fell by close to a quarter, from 10,300 to 7,900 per capita (four times greater than the drop among all adults), and from 12,800 to 10,700 among those with jobs. At the same time, the amount of bicycling, walking, and public transit ridership increased. And these trends aren’t just among broke millennials. There was an 100 percent increase in public transit usage among young people with incomes over $70,000.

This data corresponds with other studies. Zipcar consistently finds a strong Millennial desire to avoid driving. The National Association of Realtors found that six in ten of surveyed Americans preferred walkable neighborhoods to big houses, with young people leading the way. In 2011, the American Public Transportation Association found that ridership continued to climb, despite draconian budget cuts forcing riders to spend more for less.

The PIRG researchers concluded that this change couldn’t simply be pegged to the economy, but indicates a value shift. Perhaps Millennials have soured not only on the price of cars, gasoline, and upkeep—but also on the hassles of parking, the drudgery of traffic, and the negative effect cars have on urban life, air quality, and personal wellbeing. Or as Michael Hagerty, an auto journalist, wrote for AlterNet last month, many Millennials are “just plain sick of [driving] after spending 16 to 20 years with Suburbans strapped to their asses several hours a day.”

This feels like a bit of a generational issue, with those who reached adulthood after 2000 (roughly) perhaps having quite a different mindset about issues such as transport and urban development, compared to earlier generations. For people of this generation there was always the choice of whether you spent your hard earned part-time job money on a car or on increasingly attractive alternatives like iPods, laptops and snazzy smartphones.

 

The real problem is that while it is the younger generations who will have to live with the transport and urban planning decisions we make now for decades to come, those very same people seem to have relatively little power in determining the decisions that are made. I suppose this always happens when there are quite significant societal changes and we get there in the end, the real issue is perhaps limiting the damage done by the ‘transport dinosaurs’ in the meanwhile or somehow getting the point across that the world is changing. And “just because you wouldn’t do xyz, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do xyz”.

11 comments to Young people really are driving less

  • Greg N

    “just because you wouldn’t do xyz, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do xyz”.

    Could be something Gerry Brownlee and Stephen Joyce need reminding of: “just because you’ll never use PT except over a dead body, doesn’t mean we wont.”

  • bbc

    National transport policy is driven by ideology not evidence, it doesn’t matter how many studies show the above it won’t change anything here until we have a change of government and have people like Julie Anne Genter making the decisions.

    • Ash

      National knows that if they pour money into motorways and starve public transport, Kiwis will play along and we’ll continue to hear people saying “Kiwis will never get out of their cars”. Funny that, when public transport has only had the table crumbs of the transport budget for such a long time.

      Happily, there are many signs of change, even if they’re against the tide for the time being.

  • James B

    You should have seen the “losers” in my carriage on the way home from the pub today. They were wearing suits and using fancy tablet computers. OMG such failures.

    • Mr Anderson

      While zipping past people “enjoying” the “freedom” of being stuck in traffic jams on the motorway?

      • Yeah, not so much. The train speeds on the Southern Line are so woeful that traffic in the morning peak has to be really bad before the cars are moving more slowly. Until the traffic is doing less than about 50km/h, the train is going slower. It’s not a spectacular advertisement for catching the train, though the freedom to do other things is certainly still present.

        • Stu Donovan

          I agree the speed differential is fairly small, but isn’t average speeds on SH1 only 35km/hr in peak at the moment? New EMUs will probably make a difference too, at least in terms of perception.

          • My observation is that it’s not sufficiently consistent to reach a conclusion either way. Sometimes the train is faster, sometimes the cars are faster. Admittedly we’re going through from Greenlane to the city so it’s a less-congested part of the motorway, but what we see doesn’t make it obvious that it’s quicker to take the train.

  • I suspect a significant part of the reason is that the Millennial generation is the first to have come of age during a time when there’s an in-their-face message that driving hurts the planet. For my generation raised in NZ (I’m on the cusp between X and Y) it was the evils of CFCs, and the ozone hole, but it’s only the last decade where the damage done by burning fossil fuels has had significant coverage. Even in the US, where the political discourse about the validity of climate change is almost non-existent in favour denialism, the latest generations are inclined more towards worrying about the planet and the future, based on things I’ve seen from various sources. If you’re raised in a climate where something is bad for the world around you, you’ll try and avoid contributing to that.

    As an example, it was the children of the end of WW2 who created the Flower Power generation. They were raised in an environment of global fear and distrust on the back of the most lethal war in human history and under the cloud of the most destructive weapons ever created. The Millennials are the planet’s Flower Power generation, for want of a better term, and this driving culture change is part of that. It’s not like having other things to spend their money on is new; we’ve had high-priced electronic toys for generations, but they’ve always been an adjunct to the car and considerably more expensive in both real and nominal terms than are today’s gadgets.

Leave a Reply