A new study by the Colorado Public Interest Research Group Foundation (CoPIRG) has found that young Americans are increasingly relying on public transportation rather than driving. The average American drove 6% fewer miles in 2011 than in 2004 – but for those between the ages of 16 and 34, the number of miles has dropped by an impressive 23%. That’s an average of 10,300 miles a year reduced to 7,900.
But why? CoPIRG points to a few different factors. While high gas prices and the downtrodden economy are part of the picture, there’s actually a few other important shifts taking place right now as well. And the authors of the study predict that even once the economy recovers, young Americans will continue to rely increasingly on public transit.
One reason is the rise of viable alternatives to car ownership. While some young people will take the bus when possible but drive part of the time, it’s becoming more feasible due to the growth of car- and bike-sharing services for them to get rid of their cars entirely, only driving when absolutely necessary.
Young people are also purposely moving to more convenient areas. They are most likely to settle in neighborhoods with nearby shopping, restaurants, schools, and accessible public transit rather than areas with sprawl. And, yes, many of those interviewed cited concern about the environment as a reason they try to find alternate modes of transportation.
CoPIRG points out that there are also legal and financial barriers to driving. Changes in driving laws are making it harder for teens to obtain driver’s licenses by sometimes requiring costly training and restricting the hours and situations in which they are allowed to drive.
These laws have been proven to keep novice drivers safer, but for many teens, taking the bus is more convenient and more affordable. The study also notes that public transit allows users to talk on the phone, text, or work on their computer safely during their commute, making it more technology-friendly than driving.
The whole report is available for free on CoPIRG’s website.
Photo credit: Rene Schwietzke