Why America Stopped Driving

The most shocking thing about this driving decline is that it doesn’t seem to be caused by the weak economy. […]

Some say higher gas prices have caused drivers to stay home. It’s a nice story, but there’s not much evidence backing it up. Gas prices are lower today than they were six and a half years ago. And average fuel efficiency has surged over the last decade, putting the real cost of gasoline usage today no higher than it was a decade ago. […]

Remember, Americans drove 918 billion fewer miles over the last eight years than they would have if 2006 driving trends hadn’t changed. If a car has a lifespan of 200,000 miles, that ultimately means demand for vehicles over the last eight years was about half a million cars per year lower than it would have been at old driving rates.

What we can learn from millennials who opt out of driving

[Jeffrey Ball of The New Republic] notes that many millennials who go carless live in a handful of mostly coastal cities. Read one way, this shows that it is not a widespread phenomenon. Read another, it proves that transportation preferences are malleable. Most of those millennials grew up in car-dependent suburbs. They stopped driving when they moved to cities because they now live somewhere denser, with fewer incentives to drive and better alternatives. Offer that same deal to Americans in other places, especially the poor, and many of them would gladly take it.

Baby boomers now buying more new cars than their children

People aged 55-64 had the highest rate of new-vehicle purchases in 2011, according to the study, and they’ve become the age group most likely to buy a new car. Just four years ago, the population aged 35-44 was most likely to buy a new car, which goes to show how much the auto industry and its customer base has changed since the recession in 2008. But the decline in miles driven by Americans started in 2004, according to another study by the University of Michigan, much of which has been related to lifestyle choices, such as urban living and public transit.

Millennial Cohort Will Have Oversized Impact on Retail, Real Estate

This is a really good article explaining how the U.S. will be impacted as Millennials gain influence.

A few quotes that might pique your interest:

  • “[Millennials] are far less skeptical of government programs. In fact, many echo boomers believe government should do more to solve their problems.”
  • “The internet is drawing echo boomers away from television—particularly costly cable subscriptions.”
  • “The automobile thrills echo boomers much less than it did—and still does—their parents. One reason is that many of the young who can afford an automobile prefer to live in cities or mixed-use suburban locations.”
  • “Many higher-income/highly educated echo boomers grew up in the suburbs, but have happily abandoned life there for life in the cities.”
  • “Target, Walmart, and Best Buy already have developed smaller prototypes and are locating them in cities and larger suburban agglomerations, while at the same time closing some of their suburban and exurban stores.”
  • “During the 1980s and 1990s, business owners and managers were usually in the driver’s seat of the labor market, and thus were able to locate their offices in suburban locations close to their homes. But the shortage of creative talent with tech skills has made it much more important to locate the offices of startup companies and the businesses that need to interact with them where the talent they seek wants to live.”

But you should read the whole thing.

The End of Car Culture

“Different things are converging which suggest that we are witnessing a long-term cultural shift,” said Mimi Sheller, a sociology professor at Drexel University and director of its Mobilities Research and Policy Center. She cites various factors: the Internet makes telecommuting possible and allows people to feel more connected without driving to meet friends. The renewal of center cities has made the suburbs less appealing and has drawn empty nesters back in. Likewise the rise in cellphones and car-pooling apps has facilitated more flexible commuting arrangements, including the evolution of shared van services for getting to work.

I’ve linked to lots of similar articles before, but it’s interesting to watch media outlets catching on to the fact that this is a long-term trend.

Wired Magazine on texting and driving

But I’m not convinced the [texting while driving] bans will work, particularly among young people. Why? Because texting is rapidly becoming their default means of connecting with one another, on a constant, pinging basis. From 2003 to 2008, the number of texts sent monthly by Americans surged from 2 billion to 110 billion. The urge to connect is primal, and even if you ban texting in the car, teens will try to get away with it.

So what can we do? We should change our focus to the other side of the equation and curtail not the texting but the driving. This may sound a bit facetious, but I’m serious. When we worry about driving and texting, we assume that the most important thing the person is doing is piloting the car. But what if the most important thing they’re doing is texting? How do we free them up so they can text without needing to worry about driving?

At some point, we will have to face the facts and realize that we’ve been making a huge mistake for the past 70 years by building for cars first and humans second.

Young Americans less interested in driving

We often discuss the benefits that come along with building quality mass transit: economic development, increased mobility, less time stuck in traffic, and better public health.  But a recent MSNBC article illustrates one of the biggest reasons we should be building rail: making sure our city is a place where the next generation wants to live.

Generation Y is less interested in driving and “not as engaged with cars and trucks” as the last two generations, according to George Peterson, president of automotive market research firm AutoPacific.  In 1994, 87 percent of Americans aged 20 to 24 had a driver’s license.  By 2008, this dropped to 82 percent.  You may think this is largely due to the current economy, but that’s just one factor.

A longer-term issue, according to MSNBC, is that younger Americans are more interested in the latest technologies than the latest automobiles.  As we become more connected via the Internet, we become less dependent on our cars and more dependent on our smartphones.

Generation Y is also more concerned about environmental impact than any previous generation.  Although older Americans might not care about (or believe in) ideas like peak oil or climate change, younger Americans do.  As Generation Y continues to make up a larger part of the population, environmental concerns will play into not only personal decisions about buying a car, but also decisions about city-wide recycling programs and light rail ballot initiatives.

One 25-year-old interviewed by MSNBC provided some additional reasons why she went carless:

[Natalie] McVeigh uses public transportation to get to work and likes that she can spend her commute time reading or grading papers.

McVeigh also likes getting the extra exercise when she chooses to walk to work or to the grocery store, and is happy to be saving money and not adding any more pollution to the planet.

And here’s a big one:

“You have all this money, you know, and you decide you could put it all toward the car or you can put it toward other things like clothes, or your social life,” she said.

In other words, money currently being spent on cars and foreign oil can instead be spent at local businesses, pumping money into the local economy.

The carless twenty-somethings interviewed by MSNBC had something important in common: they fell in love with mass transit while experiencing it first-hand in cities like Washington, D.C.  In cities with rail transit, there seems to be no stigma against being carless or riding mass transit, including the bus.  Meanwhile, it cities like Cincinnati with only bus service, the general population isn’t very familiar with light rail, subways, or streetcars.  This unfamiliarity leads to a lack of interest in building better transit, and even a discrimination against those who take it.

Although she knows other people in big East Coast cities who don’t have cars, McVeigh said she remains unusual in Denver.

“It’s still a Western town and everyone has a car,” she said. “Everyone just thinks it’s bizarre that I don’t have a car.”

Building rail transit is about the future of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Cincinnati can build the streetcar and become one of the cities that attracts Generation Y.  Or we can sit back and do nothing — but we can’t act surprised when our young people move to cities where they’re not forced to own a car, aren’t judged for taking mass transit, and can spend their money on more important things.

Originally posted to Metro Cincinnati.

The tentative signs of the end to the dominance of cars in American culture are showing up in a number of ways. For example, the number of vehicles per person in America peaked in 2001. […]

Likewise, the number of miles driven in America for each man, woman and child peaked in 2004 – both of these peaks occurred long before we even dreamed of the current economic downturn which seems to have just accelerated the trends.

The University of Connecticut’s Norman Garrick

(via “Has the automobile era jumped the shark?,” Kaid Benfield)

John From Cincinnati

The reason I didn’t stay in Cincinnati after graduation was simple: I didn’t want to own a car.

I currently have no car. Which means: no car payment, no car insurance, no car maintenance, and no gas to buy. It’s perfect. I bike to work. And if it’s raining – it take the tram. Or streetcar, as Cincinnati calls it.