New Report Shows Bay Staters Are Driving Less

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Kirstie Pecci

Bay Staters’ Driving Is Down 4.03% Percent, Ahead of National Trend

MASSPIRG Education Fund

Boston, MA – Bay Staters have cut their per-person driving miles by 4.03% percent since 2004, mirroring similar reductions in 45 other states.  The Commonwealth’s and nation’s long term driving booms appear to have ended, according to a new report from the MASSPIRG Education Fund. Massachusetts has lower than average levels of driving per capita than the nation.  In 2011, residents of Massachusetts drove an average of 8,318 miles per capita each on average while nationally the average per-capita driving was 9,455 miles. 

“Bay Staters’ driving miles are down, just as they are in almost every state – only more so,” said Kristin Jackson, MASSPIRG Organizer. “It’s time for policy makers to wake up and realize the driving boom is over. We need to reconsider expensive highway expansions and focus on alternatives such as public transit and biking—which people increasingly are using to get around.”

The report, “Moving Off the Road: A State-by-State Analysis of the National Decline in Driving,” is based on the most current available government data. Among its findings:

  • In Massachusetts, people have reduced their driving miles by 4.03 percent per person since 2004.
  • This decline in driving is a national trend. Forty-five other states have reduced per-person driving since the middle of the last decade.
  • After World War II, the nation’s driving miles increased steadily almost every year, creating a “driving boom.” Driven by the growth of the suburbs, low gas prices, and increased auto ownership, the boom lasted 60 years. Now, in stark contrast, the average number of miles driven by Americans is in its eight consecutive year of decline, led by declines among Millennials.
  • The states with the biggest reductions in driving miles generally were not the states hit hardest by the economic downturn. The majority—almost three-quarters—of the states where per-person driving miles declined more quickly than the national average actually saw smaller increases in unemployment compared to the rest of the nation.

“We were surprised to see how widespread this trend was across the country.  We expected that perhaps driving was declining mostly in the more populous states, but the research revealed that driving is on the decline in almost every state,” said Phineas Baxandall, a Senior Analyst at MASSPIRG and
primary author of the report.

Massachusetts’ transportation system is antiquated and has gone underfunded for decades. If we are to build a modern transportation system, our limited tax dollars and political capital must be redirected to support projects which improve public transportation. 

Governor Michael Dukakis offered this assessment, “The MASSPIRG study now confirms what has been apparent to many of us for some time: people are sick and tired of wasting their time in traffic and want to live in communities that are close to their work with excellent public transportation systems. Fortunately, Greater Boston already has a public transportation system that is the envy of most of the other major cities in the country. Our job now is to manage it well and continue to make the kinds of investments in it that will make it even better and more accessible to all of our citizens– light rail through Somerville; commuter rail to southeastern Massachusetts; and building the North-South rail link that will finally connect North and South Stations by rail.”

“Given these trends, we need to press the reset button on our transportation policy,” said Jackson. “Just because past transportation investments overwhelmingly went to highway construction, doesn’t mean that continues to be the right choice for Massachusetts’ future.”

Download the report, “Moving Off the Road: A State-by-State Analysis on the National Decline in Driving.”

Download the infographic we created to illustrate the end of the Driving Boom.