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About a year ago CalPIRG put out a report called Transportation and the New Generation. I wrote about it in If you don't want to drive you've got to be driven. In my own post, I quoted from the group's press release:

A new report released today by the CalPIRG Education Fund with Frontier Group demonstrates that Americans have been driving less since the middle of last decade. The report, Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less and What it Means for Transportation Policy shows that young people in particular are decreasing the amount they drive and increasing their use of transportation alternatives.
Yesterday, the NY Times published an article about this year's report in the same vein, A New Direction, published by the federation of California's CalPIRG and other state Public Interest Research groups, U.S. PIRG. From the article, Young Americans Lead Trend to Less Driving:
People tend to drive less during recessions, since fewer people are working (and commuting), and most are looking for ways to save money. But Phineas Baxandall, an author of the report and senior analyst for U.S. Pirg, said the changes preceded the recent recession and appeared to be part of a structural shift that is largely rooted in changing demographics, especially the rise of so-called millennials — today's teenagers and twentysomethings. "Millennials aren't driving cars," he said.

Okay, that last sounds just a wee bit overstated, but the report itself (PDF) does support the gist of Mr. Baxandall's generalization:

  • Americans drove more miles nearly every year between the end of World War II and 2004. [...] By the end of this period of rapid increases in per-capita driving -- which we call the "Driving Boom" -- the average American was driving 85 percent more miles each year than in 1970.
  • Americans drive no more miles in total today than we did in 2004 and no more per person than we did in 1996.
  • On the other hand, Americans took nearly 10 percent more trips via public transportation in 2011 than we did in 2005. The nation also saw increases in commuting by bike and on foot.
  • A return to the steady growth in per-capita driving that characterized the Driving Boom years is unlikely given the aging of the Baby Boom generation, the projected continuation of high gas prices, anticipated reductions in the percentage of Americans in the labor force, and the peaking of demand for vehicles and driver's licenses and the amount of time Americans are willing to spend in travel.
Sobering stuff: "anticipated reductions in the percentage of Americans in the labor force."

But what caught my eye in the NT Times article was this, from Michael Sivak of U. Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, referring to the proportion of young people who are signing up for driver's licenses:

Online life might have something to do with the change, [Sivak] suggested. "A higher proportion of Internet users was associated with a lower licensure rate," he wrote in a recent study. "This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that access to virtual contact reduces the need for actual contact among young people."
I don't like the smell of that. Here's how the U.S. PIRG report described the relationship between virtual life and driving (bolded emphasis is mine):
Millennials are more likely to want to live in urban and walkable neighborhoods and are more open to non-driving forms of transportation than older Americans. They are also the first generation to fully embrace mobile Internet-connected technologies, which are rapidly spawning new transportation options and shifting the way young Americans relate to one another, creating new avenues for living connected, vibrant lives that are less reliant on driving.
Urban and walkable neighborhoods? I'm all for that. I'm not a millennial by any stretch of the calendar, but I live and work in an urban and walkable city myself ... and I'd readily say that ability to get where I need to go without having to drive much at all is a top contributor to my day-to-day satisfaction.

But ... that business about mobile Internet-connected technologies: does that mean that if I'm strolling around my urban and walkable neighborhood, and you're strolling around yours, that we needn't actually meet face-to-face because the "vibrant lives" one can construct via Twitter, Skype, Tumblr and Facebook make actual social interaction superfluous?

Do. Not. Agree.

Coincidentally I half-heard a radio advertisement yesterday for some ATT internet service or other. I didn't transcribe the commercial, but the setup had a couple of (young-sounding) business dudes talking, on the phone I guess. One suggests meeting for coffee to discuss business dude stuff. The other -- smug and secure in the cradle of his high-bandwidth ATT intertube service -- declines. "I have a great connection," he says (or words to that effect). "We can meet on-line."

I admit it: I spend way too much time staring at my screens, both at work and at home. But I like to keep in mind (most of the time, anyway) the simple truth that digitally-mediated interaction ain't even a small fraction as rich, as satisfying, as informationally dense, or as socially weighty as your old, reliable F2F.

Don't you think?

This diary is cross-posted from the author's blog, One Finger Typing

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Comment Preferences

  •  Cars are expensive (4+ / 0-)

    I think your conclusions are reasonable.

    But to me the elephant in the room is the lower employment and earnings in the population overall and especially among young people. Owning a car is expensive. Maybe the young people are examining the societal assumption that owning a car is a necessity.

    If you don't own a car, you have a lot more discretionary income from the same job.

    "The smartest man in the room is not always right." -Richard Holbrooke

    by Demi Moaned on Wed May 15, 2013 at 10:01:04 AM PDT

    •  Yes they are ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jessical, catilinus

      ... and so are smartphones with data plans. Once upon a time cars were a 'necessary' accessory to socializing among teens and twenty-somethings. Nowadays you're all by your lonesome if you can't text and post to FB and tweet.

      •  Cars are probably 5x the cost... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jessical, catilinus, Demi Moaned

        ...of a cell phone with data plan.

        Maybe 10x.

        (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
        Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

        by Sparhawk on Wed May 15, 2013 at 10:28:28 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You've haven't seen (0+ / 0-)

          my car :)

          ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

          by jessical on Wed May 15, 2013 at 10:30:50 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  You haven't seen my car either ... but (4+ / 0-)

          that's less important than this, from last year's CalPIRG report (referenced and linked at the top of this diary):

          However, many young Americans who cannot afford cars would continue to drive less and take alternative transportation even if they could, for the following reasons:
          • Young people who have the funds today to afford cars are still increasing their use of transportation alternatives. From 2001 to 2009, young people (16-34 years old) who lived in households with incomes of over $70,000 per year increased their use of public transit by 100 percent, biking by 122 percent, and walking by 37 percent.
          • Young people who have jobs today drive less than young people who had jobs before the recession. The average young person (ages 16 to 34) with a job drove 10,700 miles in 2009, compared with 12,800 miles in 2001.
          • Young people who have jobs today take public transportation more than young people who had jobs before the recession. Among young people who are employed, the number of miles traveled via public transit has increased 25 percent from 2001 to 2009.
          • Americans started to drive less before the recession. The miles driven per capita in America first dropped in 2005 -- three years before the start of the recession.
          •  to be more topical... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Demi Moaned

            ...the issue is, to me, balanced on issues of geography and class.  There are cities and countries I've lived in where a car was truly optional, and places where it is the most basic of requirements for participation in economic life.  And it really seems to me to come down, often as not, to where you're plopped on the map, density, and transportation options -- not your preferences or beliefs about driving or demographic.  

            Those things have an impact, and maybe it follows out in terms of voting behavior.  But what kind, and how does it get negotiated?  I live in Seattle now, where there are these things called "sharrows" they went and painted on major thoroughfares.  Biking and car alternatives have a real political base here, but having lived in a place with real bike paths -- in practical terms, I think sharrows are just a way to kill bicyclists.  Nonetheless, local government gets political points for accommodating bicyclists, the car folks go nuts (partly because they are bigoted against cyclists, partly because the sharing scheme is stupid and murderous and scary from behind the wheel) -- in short, the political expression of alternatives to the auto, as an interest group, has failed to create workable alternatives and (worse) has created a set of false and potentially destructive solutions.  

            In my own life, I did not drive until I was 23, because I thought cars were such an ugly expression of excess (I still do).  But then I got a job which required a 60 mile commute (and at 48, have gone to the moon and back in various cars).  As people get older, their time is calculated differently and demands on that time often increase.  If you are not lucky enough to live in one of the five boroughs, or to work for a company in reasonable bus distance, then the option of busing it or riding your bike becomes a kind of luxury, lost in the demands of settling down and additional responsibility to others.  So the question would be -- not only, will cyclists and bus riders vote their transportation, but will they do so when it is no longer a realistic option in their lives?

            ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

            by jessical on Wed May 15, 2013 at 04:05:46 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  True, but there's long term planning ... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              ... to think about as well. No one, of course, can control for weather -- especially humans, we can only uncontrol for weather ... even if you live in a city in North Dakota or Alberta you're not likely going to ride your bike even a mile or two to work in the dead of winter.

              At the same time, if "where you're plopped on the map, density, and transportation options" were random, were an accident, then one could more easily say that these are more purely the determining factors in whether one has options to work close to home, shop in walking distance from home, etc.

              But the US PIRG article that spurred this diary is oriented very specifically toward influencing transportation investments: away from road infrastructure, and toward public transit, toward incentives to live close to transit and commerce. It's precisely our common past investments in and subsidies of road infrastructure and that encourage building housing miles (and miles) away from centers of business and commerce. That's a product of social and political choices, not an existential inevitability.

              I second, third, and fourth your call for better ways to encourage biking, walking, carpooling, car-sharing, and taking public transit over driving solo. Sharrows? Oh, yeah, I live the reality of those dangers every day I bike to work (which is just about every workday), and I've written about them too. But my perspective is that figuring out the best ways to transition from auto-centric culture to shared-transport and people-powered transport is going to be a matter of experimenting, trying and sometimes failing / sometimes succeeding. IMO, heavier investment in experiments of this sort is a path to more quickly identifying the kinds of accommodations and encouragements work in various types of urban environments. It's a process.

              That's my theory, anyway.

  •  This is an important diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shockwave, catilinus

    about the "good-news, bad-news" of an undeniable trend toward people driving less.

    I myself keep a car, at no little expense and inconvenience, despite living in an urban neighborhood where I can run most of my errands on foot. I do this because present uncertainties in my livelihood make car ownership indispensable.

    Anybody remember HumVees? They were so big 5-10 years ago. Now hardly anybody drives them anymore. Guess when it costs $125 to fill your tank, and you have to fill your tank so damn often, owning a big behemoth solely to impress your neighbors just isn't quite as appealing.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Wed May 15, 2013 at 10:08:43 AM PDT

  •  Los Angeles is leading the way (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Yes Los Angeles, where GM killed the Red Cars and turned Los Angeles into the automobile capital of America.

    More people taking public transportation, L.A.'s Metro system leading the way

    Record numbers of Americans ditched their own cars and took public transportation in 2012, resulting in the nation's second highest annual ridership since 1957.

    The American Public Transportation Association said Monday some of the largest increases occurred in Los Angeles, where the popular Expo Line opened last April.

    Los Angeles' light rail system saw an 18.5 percent spike in ridership, according to APTA. Most of that was attributed to the Expo Line, which stretches from downtown LA to Culver City.

    The heavy rail system, meanwhile, saw a 3.7 percent increase in ridership.

    Marc Littman, spokesman for the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said more people are taking public transportation because they can.

    "Rail ridership keeps going up exponentially because it's easier, more convenient," he said.

    And thanks to a half-percent sales tax for transportation projects that voters approved in 2008, Metro is continuing to expand its rail service.

    Lot's of young people in the subway every time I (yes even I) take it.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Wed May 15, 2013 at 10:14:49 AM PDT

    •  Indeed Orange Cty is the lede in US PIRG report (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shockwave, catilinus

      ... specifically about how highway expansion and toll-road building has led to financial trouble. From that report's introduction:

      Far from meeting the initial predictions of success, however, Southern California's toll roads have served as a cautionary tale of what can happen when millions of dollars are spent on expanded highways … and the cars don’t show up.
      US PIRG's report is, unsurprisingly, focused on shifting policy away from spending on road infrastructure to support developing tendencies to drive less.
  •  Face to face interactions still have their (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    antimony, sagesource, catilinus

    purpose, but the idea that social interactions, communities, and relationships formed over online are somehow less "real" or "vibrant" smacks of old-people-who-don't-get-it talk.

    On the contrary, for people who are disabled or have social phobias online interaction is sometimes a lifeline to desired human interaction.

    In any case, love it or hate it, it is the future. As the world modernizes globally, as countries like ours take the first steps into these new technologies, remote-communication is going to be more easily available, faster, and more advanced.

    Something like the Matrix may seem unbelievable or fantasy, but if you picked a person from even 100 or so years ago and showed them Skype they'd think you were a sorcerer.

    •  seriously! (4+ / 0-)

      I'm just barely a GenXer, not a Millenial, but sure, I do a lot of online socializing, some of it with fairly nearby friends.  Does an IM conversation replace a quick drive to a coffee shop sometimes?  Sure.  But I can have those more often -- I can chat for a few minutes when I get home from a long day, when even if I had a car I'd turn down a face-to-face hangout because I need sleep.  

      But there's more -- to the OP, look at the quote you highlighted: "which are rapidly spawning new transportation options".  Not new interaction options, like Skype, but new transportation options.  Car-sharing services.  Bike-sharing services.  Quick online route planning for public transit, rather than having a sheaf of bus schedules and a headache.  

  •  Anecdotal, but my own son is now 20. He's (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    never bothered to get a CDL. Never felt any peer pressure to do it. That represents good news on many levels.

    Diary tipped & rec'ced. Well done my friend.

    The Americas greatest political dynasty...the Kaan

    by catilinus on Wed May 15, 2013 at 01:04:29 PM PDT

    •  Yep, I've got anecdotes just like that... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... next-generation cousins and twenty-something friends who haven't bothered to get a driver's license. A far different world from the one we grew up in. I recall being 3rd in line at the DMV on my 16th birthday ... couldn't wait.


  •  Rescue Rangers...Hello! Please consider this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Darryl House, dharmasyd

    positive & excellent diary for rescue.

    The Americas greatest political dynasty...the Kaan

    by catilinus on Wed May 15, 2013 at 01:09:27 PM PDT

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