23 Aug 2014
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Young Americans are Driving Less, Study Says

Between 2001 and 2009 the average yearly number of vehicle-miles traveled by the 16-to-34-year-old cohort dropped 23 percent -- from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita.

Young Americans are Driving Less, Study Says

According to a transportation report released by the CalPIRG Education Fund today, it appears that younger Americans are driving less.

The report, "Transportation and the New Generation," which analyzed several national transportation studies, shows younger drivers are finding alternative transportation methods, which the report attributes to a myriad of reasons including the Great Recession, fuel prices and an increasing use of technology.

An overall trend, from 2004 to 2011 vehicle-miles driven per capita in the U.S. has decreased 6 percent, according to the study, with younger Americans leading the way away from driving and toward alternate-transportation.

According to the report, between 2001 and 2009 the average yearly number of vehicle-miles traveled by the 16-to-34-year-old cohort dropped 23 percent -- from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita.

These young Americans are increasingly finding alternative ways to get around, the study states. According to a survey conducted by KRC Research and Zipcar, 45 percent of people ages 18-34 years old said they have consciously tried to replace driving with alternative transportation, compared to about 32 percent of all older populations.

The report emphasized an increase in bicycle ridership, walking trips and public transit use. It also noted an increase in 14- to 34-year-olds without driver's licenses, which reached 26 percent in 2010, up from 21 percent in 2000.

Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian advocacy group, said she's noticed younger people opting to ditch cars, which can be a burden in the city.

Stampe, who was not involved in the report, said she is noticing people "returning to the fundamentals" of walking, biking and public transit.

For young people who have embraced the urban lifestyle she has noticed cars are expensive, hard to park and "more an encumbrance than a useful tool."

She noted San Francisco is a "walkable" city at only 7-miles wide and with buses available for when hoofing it is not an option.

Similarly to the report's findings, Stampe has seen car-shares as increasingly providing four wheels in the city instead of car ownership -- even for young families, who in other more suburban areas depend on a car.

She highlighted San Francisco's head city transportation director Ed Reiskin's car-free lifestyle choice.

"That's a great example of leadership and of modeling how it's possible to live in a city with children without a car," Stampe said.

The report also looked at what is moving potential drivers off the road.

It appears younger generations prefer living in a car-free environment. Stampe echoed the sentiments uncovered by a study by the National Association for Realtors that found young people are the generation most likely to prefer to live in an area where shopping, restaurants, services, and public transportation are easily accessible opposed to sprawl.

In the Zipcar-commissioned survey, 16 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds said they strongly agreed with the statement, "I want to protect the environment, so I drive less."

The CalPIRG study identified technology as a leading factor in the decision to either drive or find alternate travel. From more computer-oriented businesses offering work-from-home opportunities to smart phone and mobile technology providing accurate transit information, technological advances can make driving a less desirable choice.

With improving technology such as Nextbus, which tracks real-time bus locations and arrival times, more than 80 transportation systems nationwide are tracked and passengers can use the technology on the Internet or on a smartphone.

Availability of bikes and cars are also more accessible with online listings for car- and bike-shares.

Additionally, younger generations are known for their high cellphone use, which in most states is banned while driving. Public transit allows commuters to use cellphones while traveling.

"Becoming more mobile helps us become more mobile," Stampe said about the pervasive use of technology pushing the next generation to choose car-free travel options.

The report cited other factors leading to the decline in young drivers including more stringent driving laws for new drivers; increased fuel prices that are expected to continue rising through 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration; and the economic climate since 2008 which has left many unemployed or underemployed who cannot afford driving costs.

However, the study noted the trend toward reduced driving is happening even among young people with jobs and financial stability.

Also noteworthy, the study highlighted a reversal on the roads for all Americans starting in 2005 -- three years before the Great Recession struck, according to a 2008 Brookings Institution analysis.

CalPIRG released the report to put together all the different information out there about driving and the next generation, according to the group's San Francisco office spokesman Jon Fox.

"Drawing all this info together has a huge impact on how we go forward with public transportation planning," he said.

The report included studies from the federal Department of Transportation, National Household Travel Survey, Federal Highway Administration, KRC Research commissioned by Zipcar, and the National Association of Realtors.

The full report can be read at calpirg.org.

Tell us how much you drive a year in the comments section below.

-Bay City News Service

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