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Why millennials are driving less than previous generations

The Nickel Tour: A new report finds that millennials are once again setting themselves apart from previous generations: this time it’s all about driving. Or, in this case, not driving.

Millennials are different from previous generations. (Surprise!)

The latest evidence of the generational shift is a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund and the Frontier Group that shows young people born roughly between 1983 and 2000 are continuing to be less car-dependent than their parents even as they age and the economy improves.

Between 2001 and 2009, there was a 23 percent decline in the average number of miles driver by 16 to 24-year-olds, according to the report. Between 2006 and 2009, the share of 16 to 34-year-olds driving to work decreased by 1.5 percent as the share commuting by public transit, bicycle and on foot all increased.

Americans younger than 30 used public transit two to three times more often than people aged 30 to 60, according to a 2014 survey by TransitCenter.

“With Millennials driving less, and showing signs they might continue to do so, it’s no longer true that the amount of driving and traffic can go in only one direction,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst at U.S. PIRG and co-author of the report.

What’s more, the number of miles driven by the average American annually has been on an almost continuous decline since 2004. Americans as a whole are driving no more total miles annually now than they did in 2005; on average, Americans now drive no more than they did in the mid-90s.

The report’s authors see these trends as a signal for lawmakers to revisit the country’s transportation policies to better prepare for the transportation habits and needs of future generations.

“If Millennials are able to continue driving less than did previous generations at the same age, then America will have an opportunity for reduced traffic congestion, fewer deaths and injuries on the roads, lower expenditures for highway construction and less pollution of our air and climate,” Baxandall said in a statement.

The shifts in driving behavior follow other generational shifts in everything from socioeconomics to the availability and prevalence of technology and transportation options to lifestyle preferences.

For the first time since 1988 when the Census Bureau began tracking shifts between the city and suburbs, 20 to 29 year-olds were less likely to leave the city for the suburbs, according to data from 2012-2013. And report after report finds that the millennial generation prefers a walkable lifestyle both in urban environments and in walkable suburban environments that offer access to amenities and transit.

The report’s authors urge lawmakers to consider the impact of millenials continuing to exhibit this behavior even as they enter their “peak driving years” or between 35 and 55. If they drive less or even only as much as their parents, that would mark a shift in the transportation demands of the largest generation in the U.S.

“After five years of economic growth with stagnant driving, it’s time for federal and state 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,” Baxandall said.

Image courtesy of Edward Conde

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