Transportation and Young Adults: Driving is Down, Biking and Public Transport Way Up

New research shows that young people from the U.S. and Canada to Germany and South Korea are driving less, biking more and using public transportation in significantly higher numbers.

Biking and the use of public transportation are up significantly among 16 to 34-year-olds in the U.S., while driving has dropped.

Image courtesy of Flickr user luxomedia.

New research shows that young people in the U.S., Canada, Germany, South Korea, and other countries are driving less, and, in the U.S., biking more and using public transportation in significantly higher numbers.

Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less and What it Means for Transportation Policy,” [pdf] a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the Frontier Group, includes these statistics:

  • Driving is down: The number of vehicle miles traveled by 16 to 34-year-olds in the U.S. dropped 23% between 2001 and 2009. As well, the share of 14 to 34-year-olds without driver’s licenses grew between 2001 and 2010 from 21% to 26%.
  • Biking is up: In 2009, 16 to 34-year-olds in the U.S. took 24% more bike trips than in 2001 – even with that age group shrinking in size by 2%.
  • Public Transport is up: Public transport use by that same group also rose in the same period — passenger miles traveled are up by a huge 40%.

The report says that reductions in driving are “a phenomenon becoming characteristic of developed countries.” A 2011 study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute showed that seven developed countries — Canada, Great Britain, Sweden, Norway, Japan, South Korea and Germany — had decreases in the percentage of young people with driver’s licenses. As well, “vehicle-miles traveled have either leveled off or fallen in Western European countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and Spain.”

Among the reasons cited for the changes in the U.S.:

  • It’s easier to use a phone when you’re not driving. “Public transportation is more compatible with a lifestyle based on mobility and peer-to-peer connectivity than driving,” notes the study.
  • Environmental commitment. In a KRC Zipcar survey, 16% of 18 to 34-year-olds said they strongly agreed with the statement, “I want to protect the environment, so I drive less.” Only about 9% of older generations said the same thing.
  • Bike-sharing programs are more available. Technology “makes bike-sharing programs possible and convenient,” says the study. In just the past two years, at least nine U.S. cities have launched bike-sharing services, including Boston, Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C.
  • Car-sharing programs are also on the rise. Says the report: “Technology has also led to the creation of transportation options that did not exist 15 or 20 years ago. With car-sharing services such as Zipcar, for example, the Internet and smart phone applications allow users to reserve, pay for and locate cars easily, at any time of the day.”

The report notes that, of course, “people who are unemployed or underemployed have difficulty affording cars, commute to work less frequently if at all, and have less disposable income to spend on traveling for vacation.” But, significantly, the report says that the trend toward reduced driving “has occurred even among young people who are employed and/or are doing well financially.”

Phineas Baxandall, senior transportation analyst for U.S. PIRG Education Fund and a co-author of the report, says in a press release that the report has implications for transportation policy. “America needs to understand these trends when deciding how to focus our future transportation investments, especially when transportation dollars are so scarce.”

The report’s recommendation:

“America’s transportation policies have long been predicated on the assumption that driving will continue to increase. The changing transportation preferences of young people — and Americans overall — throw that assumption into doubt. Transportation decision-makers at all levels — federal, state and local — need to understand the trends that are leading to the reduction in driving among young people and engage in a thorough reconsideration of America’s transportation policy-making to ensure that it serves both the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s young Americans and moves the nation toward a cleaner, more sustainable and economically vibrant future.”

7 Comments On: Transportation and Young Adults: Driving is Down, Biking and Public Transport Way Up

  • Terry | April 10, 2012

    Thanks for this positive news. I’m glad to hear that young people are leading the way. I’m posting it to my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts to spread the word.
    Sustainably,
    Terry Gips, President and CEO
    Sustainability Associates
    http://www.sustainabilityassociates.com

  • DAVID BAIR | April 10, 2012

    This study seems to take one piece of data and then weave the story they want around it. You cannot discount the great recession that eily, both in the fact of higher unemployment in this age group plus the lower starting pay that affect this age bracket. In addition they do not mention the fact that age of marrying is rising further, which means without a family the bike and bus are easier. Finally let’s consider that most of the examples of alternatives are only happening in 2009 in a few major cities, where most of the population is not living.

    Remember before the recesstion car sales were 15MM+ and in the last couple months they are climbing again.

  • Wednesday Reads – 4/11/12 – Romney, Christie and a Rant! « Me, Myself, Music and Mysteries | April 11, 2012

    […] was growing up was always a big thing, but now more young adults are even passing on driving…  Transportation and Young Adults: Driving is Down, Biking and Public Transport Way Up. How about the dream of home ownership, yeah right!  How about a good steady job…..hum that […]

  • Leslie Brokaw | April 11, 2012

    Hi David — Thanks for your comment. The report includes this passage about the recession and its role in the data (and the boldface is in the report itself):

    “The recession has played a role in reducing the miles driven in America, especially by young people. People who are unemployed or underemployed have difficulty affording cars, commute to work less frequently if at all, and have less disposable income to spend on traveling for vacation and other entertainment. The trend toward reduced driving, however, has occurred even among young people who are employed and/or are doing well financially.

    The full report is available as a 41-page pdf here.

  • Crece el uso de medios alternativos de transporte « ASPICGA | April 15, 2012

    […] original: Transportation and Young Adults: Driving is Down, Biking and Public Transport Way Up; MIT Sloan Management Review, 09/04/2012. Share this:TwitterFacebookMe gusta:Me gustaSé el primero […]

  • bobby | May 22, 2012

    This is, in my opinion, a positive, but not in toto. While less gridlock, cleaner air, increased safety of travel, and so on are fine benefits, I don’t see how this bodes well for certain industries in particular (full disclosure: my industry DOES benefit from having high drivership) and the economy in general.

    I believe we should keep drivership as high as possible. We should not put the cart before the horse. There are many other ways to solve environmental and safety issues that do not involve harming key industries.

  • Going Nowhere | June 8, 2012

    […] However, a recent article by Maclean’s discusses how mobile phones are the new status symbol for Generation Y. According to the national magazine, the number of miles driven by drivers aged 16-34 dropped 23% from 2001-2009. A study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) found a decline in the number of 16-54 year olds who even possessed a licence, with 92% having one in 1991, and 87% in 2009. This phenomenon is not specific to North America; it is happening worldwide. […]

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