New Report Documents Transportation Trends in Arizona:

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Decline in Driving, Increase in Public Transit

Arizona PIRG Education Fund

According to new research, Arizona is experiencing a shift in how people travel. Bikes, Trains and Less Driving, a report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, found that between 2005-2012 Arizona saw a 10.5 percent decline in annual vehicle miles traveled per capita and Arizonans increasingly look to public transportation to get around.

Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund stated, “As transportation dollars become scarcer, the time has come for Arizona to shift its transportation priorities away from expensive new highways and toward the maintenance and repair of our existing infrastructure and the development of new transportation choices.”

The report stated that some people might assume that the decrease in driving is a result of the recent economic recession and that driving will rebound once the economy improves. However, it goes on to say that many factors show that this shift away from driving and to other modes of transportation is a trend that is likely to be long-lasting.

According to the report:

  • The trend away from driving is led by the Millennial generation, which is already the largest generation in the United States. In 2012, 23.4 percent of Arizonans were young people aged 18-34. Young people are more likely than the rest of the population to use public transportation and walk or bike to their destination, and many young people reduce their driving in an effort to protect the environment.
  • Arizona’s population skews slightly older than the national average. In 2012, 14.8 percent of Arizonans were at least 65 years old, compared to 13.7 percent nationally. Public transportation offers a good alternative for seniors who may feel that managing a car is too burdensome or for those who can no longer safely operate a vehicle.
  • 11.7 percent of Arizonans have a disability that may restrict their driving abilities. In addition, most Arizona public transit systems offer paratransit service, which is specialized, door-to-door transportation service for people with disabilities or seniors who are not able to ride fixed-route public transportation.
  • Fewer Arizonans are making a regular commute to and from to work. In 2012, 5.4 percent of Arizonans worked from home, compared to 4.0 percent in 2005.

As personal vehicle travel has decreased, the number of trips and the number of miles traveled by public transportation has increased in Arizona. Transit agencies across the state are experiencing record ridership. In the Phoenix metro area, the light rail opened in late 2008 and is already experiencing ridership numbers that weren’t projected to be reached until the year 2020. In 2013, the Valley Metro transit system experienced a record high annual ridership, and between 2007-2013, boardings on Valley Metro transit service jumped from 60 million to more than 75 million – an increase of 25 percent. The Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority recently saw its highest monthly ridership in October 2013. And in Yuma, ridership on Yuma County Area Transit has tripled since 2011.

Based on its findings, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and St. Luke’s Health Initiatives recommends that public officials:

Revisit transportation plans. Many existing transportation plans continue to reflect outdated assumptions that the number of miles driven will continue to rise steadily over time. Officials at all levels should revisit transportation plans to ensure that they reflect recent declines in driving and new understandings of the future
demand for travel.

Reallocate resources. With driving stagnating and demand for transit, bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure increasing, officials should reallocate resources toward system repair and programs that expand the range of transportation options available to Arizonans.

Remove barriers to non-driving transportation options. In many areas, planning and zoning laws and transportation funding rules limit public officials’ ability to expand access to transportation choices. Officials at all levels should remove these barriers and ensure access to funding for non-driving forms of transportation.

Use innovative travel tools and services. New technologies and techniques provide transportation officials with new tools to address transportation challenges. Transportation agencies should encourage the use of carsharing, bikesharing and ridesharing and provide real-time travel information for public transit via smartphone.

Get better data. Transportation agencies should compile and make available to the public more comprehensive, comparable and timely data to allow for better informed analysis of the causes and magnitude of changes in driving trends. Officials at all levels should eliminate inconsistencies in the reporting of transportation data, increase the frequency of surveys that shed light on changes in transportation preferences and behaviors, and use emerging new sources of information made possible by new technologies in order to gain a better grasp of how driving trends are changing and why.