Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Yes, more people ride light rail and take the subway these days

April 6, 2012 - 11:00 AM
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(Photo: John Hendel)

Cars are so last century, right? The U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group have released a new report called "Transportation and the New Generation" that says basically that. One bit of good news, they say, is that people are riding the light rail and taking the subway more than ever — a trend bound to increase as more American cities invest in transit and create robust, reliable light rail and subway systems. Take heart, streetcar enthusiasts. See the graph below, with data from the Bureau of Transportation statistics, for proof of the trend.

"Between 2001 and 2009 the annual number of passenger miles per
capita traveled by 16 to 34-year-olds on public transit increased by 40%," the report says.

But equally fascinating is the way young drivers have stopped, apparently, caring about cars and the way they've begun driving less over the last decade. People take fewer trips and shorter trips than they did in the past. We may be able to attribute some of the recent trend, I'd strongly argue, to the recession. How easy is it for younger people to buy automobiles today? How do all these record-high gas prices influence drivers' decisions when they take to the road? Those are enormous factors, too.

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: PIRG)

Consider this snippet from the report about our change in driving habits:

Since the mid-2000s however, the number of miles driven in America—both total and per capita—has fallen. Since 2004, the average number of vehicle-miles driven per capita has decreased by 6 percent. (See Figure 1.) And since 2007, when Americans’ total vehicle travel peaked, the total number of miles driven in America has fallen 2.3 percent. (See Figure 2.) Americans as a whole drove fewer miles in 2011 than they drove in 2004.4

Today’s youth lead the decline in vehicle- miles traveled. While Generation X (age 35-49) and the Baby Boomers (age 50-65) have seen modest drops in the distance they travel in cars, Generation Y (age 16-34) is now driving significantly less than young generations have in prior decades. According to the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), between 2001 and 2009, the average number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita— a drop of 23 percent.


Read the report here.

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