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A new report from the CALPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group shows mounting evidence that the Millennial generation’s dramatic shift away from driving is more than temporary. While the 2000s saw a marked decrease in the average number of miles traveled by young Americans, the study explains that those trends appear likely to continue even as the economy improves – in light of the consistency of Millennials’ surveyed preferences, a continued reduction of Millennials driving to work, and the continued decreases in per-capita driving among all Americans.
“Millennials are different from their parents, and those differences aren’t going away,” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director at CALPIRG Education Fund. “After five years of economic growth with stagnant driving, it’s time for federal and California governments to wake up to growing evidence that Millennials don’t want to drive as much as their parents did. This change has big implications and policy makers shouldn’t be asleep at the wheel.”
“Millennials are trying to send a message to policy-makers: We want convenient, walkable neighborhoods with many options for how to get around,” said Tony Dutzik, Senior Analyst at Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Unfortunately, many of our nation’s transportation policies work to ensure just the opposite result.”
The report includes many findings that suggest that Millennials’ shift away from driving last decade is continuing:
• Census data shows that the share of 16 to 24 year-olds traveling to work by car declined by 1.5 percentage points between 2006 and 2013, while the share of young people getting to work by public transportation, on foot or by bicycle, or else working from home, had increased.
• Young people aged 20 to 30 are less likely to move from central cities to suburbs than at any time since at least the late 1990s.
• Millennials consistently report greater attraction to less driving-intensive lifestyles — urban living, residence in “walkable” communities, and openness to the use of non-driving modes of transport — than older generations.
• Fewer young people are getting their driver’s licenses than even a few years ago. The percentage of high school seniors with driver’s licenses declined from 85 percent to 73 percent between 1996 and 2010, according to the AAA Foundation for Highway Safety, with federal data suggesting that the decline has continued since then.
Millennials are the largest generation in number and they will be the chief users of the transportation investments that get made over the coming decade. Millennials are expected to drive more as they reach the peak-driving years of middle age, but if they drive less (or even no more) than their parents did in middle age, it will be a monumental shift in travel trends since the 1950s and the assumptions underpinning current transportation policy.
"Millennials are critical to the future of our cities and our economy. Their transportation and housing preferences need to factor strongly into our planning and upcoming state projects,” said State Senator and President Pro Tem-elect Kevin De Leon. “Many of our nation's young people are opting for public transportation for personal, economic, environmental, or practical reasons, and that’s a development we should be encouraging."
“My friends and I don’t depend much on cars to get around anymore. I think it is for a wide range of reasons – from avoiding traffic and the hassle of parking, to saving money and reducing gas consumption, to reducing pollution. I want our cities to provide us with transportation options that we want to use,” said Sonia Lilani, a UC Berkeley student.
"Working families depend on public transit. Increasing clean transportation options for underserved communities will clean up our air and help residents thrive. This report shows that policy makers should prioritize solutions that anticipate the current and upcoming demand for clean, mass transit. Doing so ensures that the needs of millennials and low-income people of color are met for generations to come," said Alvaro Sanchez, Program Manager for The Greenlining Institute.
“The younger generation of San Diegans is using more transit, from low income to high tech white collar employees. Combined with Car2Go, Uber, Lyft, biking and walking, they are ditching car ownership at record high levels. Our next long term Regional Transportation Plan adoption needs to better reflect the current shift in a new economic reality, where young people simply have a different set of priorities for quality of life, and mobility,” said Elyse Lowe, Executive Director of Circulate San Diego.
In reviewing a wide range of data from the last few years, the report finds that many of the reasons why Millennials are driving less are long-term trends that are likely to last.
• While young adults “living on their parents’ sofa” increased during the recession, the share living in their parents’ homes had also been increasing even prior to the recession.
• The recession may have caused some Millennials to delay forming separate families that would likely drive more, but Americans have been getting married and having children at a later age nearly continuously since the 1960s. These trends have continued during the recovery.
• Graduated driver licensing requirements adopted in recent years by state governments have likely played a small but important role in causing young people to delay or forgo getting a driver’s license, potentially encouraging Millennials to develop less car-dependent transportation habits that they may carry with them as they age.
Americans drive fewer total miles than we did in 2005, and fewer miles per capita than we did in the mid-1990s. People are riding public transportation more than at any time since the mid-1950s, the number of people working at home continues to surge, and bicycling has become the fastest-growing mode of commuting. Demand for housing and office space in walkable neighborhoods of many cities is outpacing the supply of new construction.
“This report is about more than just describing what is taking place,” said Rusch. “It is also about an opportunity. If Millennials continue to drive fewer miles than previous generations as they age — and if future generations of young people follow suit — America will have an opportunity to reap a variety of benefits, including reduced traffic congestion, fewer deaths and injuries on the roads, reduced expenditures for highway construction and less pollution of our air and climate. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s annual driving forecasts consistently over-estimate Americans’ driving habits, and road builders use those forecasts to justify new or expanded highways. Our own U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer has an influential role in transportation policy in Congress, and we urge her to take these trends into account when establishing transportation spending priorities.”
The report calls on public leaders to rethink their transportation investments to accommodate and encourage the Millennial generation in its desire for less car-intensive lifestyles. This includes greater investment in public transit and biking infrastructure, and using highway funds to repair of existing roads rather than building new are wider highways. State and federal governments should also assist efforts currently being led by cities to encourage walkable communities and innovative uses of technology that connect travelers to more travel options and shared vehicles.
CALPIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group have been leaders in following and explaining the ongoing shift away from driving through a series of reports on the trend, including a study last month of major highway expansion plans that do not make sense in light of these ongoing travel trends.
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