the connection between prices and consumption.)
This is mostly good news, although high unemployment is without doubt a continuing factor even with the Great Recession having been officially over since the summer of 2009. On the plus side, more fuel-efficient cars are making a difference. Short offers his take on some of the other whys of reduced purchases:
• Baby boomers are retiring in large numbers, which means fewer commuters.
• There is the ever-growing trend of working from home.
• Accelerating concentration of the urban population means less dependence on gasoline.
• "Social media have provided powerful alternatives to face-to-face interaction requiring transportation (Internet apps, games, the ubiquitous cell phone for talk and texting)."
And then's there is one very welcome but unexpected factor: the different attitude about driving among many Americans born 1983 through 2000, the Millennial Generation.
Please click below the fold to read further analysis:
Last spring, U.S. PIRG released a study, A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future, noting that the so-called Driving Boom, a six-decade phenomenon beginning in 1946, came to an end in 2004. That year, the average American was driving 85 percent more miles than in 1970. Since then, total miles have remained the same, but the average individual is only driving the same number of miles as in 1996.
Along with the baby boomers, the vast bulk of whom will be retired by 2030, the Millennials—who are already the largest single generation in the country—will in 17 years be the largest group in the peak driving ages of 35-54. Their driving behavior will have a major impact, according to the U.S. PIRG study:
• Young people aged 16 to 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than they did in 2001—a greater decline in driving than any other age group. The severe economic recession was likely responsible for some of the decline, but not all.But there's a problem, as the U.S. PIRG authors noted: Too much government policy is stuck in old thinking about transportation. What's needed is a new vision, they say, which plans for uncertainty, ferrets out potentially anomalous highway projects awaiting funding (some of which were proposed decades ago), alters the federal role to focus on ranking projects based on the overall benefits to society, spends money on projects where it makes good sense and is not undertaken merely because of the source of revenue and, most importantly:
• 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.
• If the Millennial-led decline in per-capita driving continues for another dozen years, even at half the annual rate of the 2001-2009 period [...] total vehicle travel in the United States could remain well below its 2007 peak through at least 2040—despite a 21 percent increase in population.
• If Millennials retain their current propensity to drive less as they age and future generations follow (Enduring Shift), driving could increase by only 7 percent by 2040. If, unexpectedly, Millennials were to revert to the driving patterns of previous generations (Back to the Future), total driving could grow by as much as 24 percent by 2040.
Support[s] the Millennials and other Americans in their desire to drive less. Federal, state and local policies should help create the conditions under which Americans can fulfill their desire to drive less. Increasing investments in public transportation, bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure and intercity rail—especially when coupled with regulatory changes to enable the development of walkable neighborhoods—can help provide more Americans with a broader range of transportation options.Innovating our transportation infrastructure and revamping policies in these ways would have a broad range of benefits, not the least of which would be decent-paying jobs that can't be off-shored.
Two years ago, in Think Big: Transportation overhaul would save money, create jobs, cut pollution, burn less oil, I wrote that policies to create more fuel-efficient cars ought to be high on progressives' priority list. However, a truly far-sighted transportation policy would be one that works to get us to spend more time out of our cars altogether. Happily, Millennial attitudes about driving, if they hold fast, should help spur us toward that end. The benefits would be immense and long-lasting:
[O]ur major modes of transportation poison us, burn two-thirds of the oil we drill at home and import from abroad, make us less secure because of the geopolitics involved in maintaining access to much of that oil, gobble up a scarce resource essential for making other products, extract large hunks of household income and contribute a third of the CO2 we’re loading into the atmosphere.Activists, especially the generation of young activists who will be the major beneficiaries of new transportation policies, can bend that opposition toward serious change through persuasion and, in cases when persuasion meets a wall, by exchanging the existing leadership for people willing to abandon the old ways to build a transportation future in sync with what is needed for environmental sustainability. One thing we know for certain, such policies will not create themselves and will not happen without significant popular pressure.
Rethinking transportation means rethinking zoning and other aspects of how we build our cities and develop the land in between. It demands a hard look at subsidies that promote particular modes of transportation to the exclusion of others and broadening the definition of what a subsidy is. Rethinking transportation requires rethinking the currently inadequate public revenue streams that pay for most of its infrastructure. And, obviously, it means extricating ourselves from dependence on fossil fuel, not just the imported stuff but what we take out of the ground within our own borders and from beneath the continental shelves.
The good news is that rethinking and subsequently enacting policies for remaking our transportation system can spur us to build more bike- and pedestrian-friendly cities, make our vehicles efficient, cut pollution, lower CO2 emissions, reduce the size of our military budget, boost the use of alternative fuels (including renewably generated electricity), decrease congestion and help restore America’s manufacturing base, which, in turn, will supply millions of badly needed, high-quality jobs. The bad news is that there is stubborn opposition, local and national, to all of this.