New Report Shows Mounting Evidence of Millennials’ Shift Away from Driving

Media Contacts
Kirstie Pecci

Congestion forecasts and government still ignore lasting change in Massachusetts and nationwide


A new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and Frontier Group shows mounting evidence that the Millennial generation’s dramatic shift away from driving is more than temporary. While the 2000s saw a marked decrease in the average number of miles traveled by young Americans, the study explains that those trends appear likely to continue even as the economy improves – in light of the consistency of Millennials’ surveyed preferences, a continued reduction of Millennials driving to work, and the continued decreases in per-capita driving among all Americans.

“Millennials are different from their parents, and those differences aren’t going away,” said Kirstie Pecci, Staff Attorney and Transportation Advocate at MASSPIRG. “After five years of economic growth with stagnant driving, it’s time for federal and Massachusetts governments to wake up to growing evidence that Millennials don’t want to drive as much as their parents did. This change has big implications and policy makers shouldn’t be asleep at the wheel.”

“Millennials are trying to send a message to policy-makers: We want convenient, walkable neighborhoods with many options for how to get around,” said Tony Dutzik, Senior Analyst at Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Unfortunately, many of our nation’s transportation policies work to ensure just the opposite result.”

The report includes many findings that suggest that Millennials’ shift away from driving last decade is continuing:

  • Census data shows that the share of 16 to 24 year-olds traveling to work by car declined by 1.5 percentage points between 2006 and 2013, while the share of young people getting to work by public transportation, on foot or by bicycle, or else working from home, had increased.
  • Young people aged 20 to 30 are less likely to move from central cities to suburbs than at any time since at least the late 1990s.
  • Millennials consistently report greater attraction to less driving-intensive lifestyles — urban living, residence in “walkable” communities, and openness to the use of non-driving modes of transport — than older generations.
  • Fewer young people are getting their driver’s licenses than even a few years ago. The percentage of high school seniors with driver’s licenses declined from 85 percent to 73 percent between 1996 and 2010, according to the AAA Foundation for Highway Safety, with federal data suggesting that the decline has continued since then.

Millennials are the largest generation in number and they will be the chief users of the transportation investments that get made over the coming decade. Millennials are expected to drive more as they reach the peak-driving years of middle age, but if they drive less (or even no more) than their parents did in middle age, it will be a monumental shift in travel trends since the 1950s and the assumptions underpinning current transportation policy.

“I’m happy to see the data reaffirming what my own personal experience reflects,” said John Griese, Boston University senior and a member of the Public Transit, Public Good’s U-Pass working group. “There is really a paradigm shift happening in my generation right now. Folks are looking for a way of life that acknowledges and fosters our mutual dependence, rather than isolates and alienates. A huge part of this is favoring environments in which driving is necessary.” 

Americans drive fewer total miles than we did in 2005, and fewer miles per capita than we did in the mid-1990s. People are riding public transportation more than at any time since the mid-1950s, the number of people working at home continues to surge, and bicycling has become the fastest-growing mode of commuting. Demand for housing and office space in walkable neighborhoods of many cities is outpacing the supply of new construction.

“Young people are beginning to understand the necessity of a transit system that is both sustainable and equitable–one which recognizes that when we face hardship we need institutions that raise us up, rather than limit us. This can be seen in the huge upsurge in student support behind University Pass and Youth Pass programs coming to Boston next year,” said Griese.

The report calls on public leaders to rethink their transportation investments to accommodate and encourage the Millennial generation in its desire for less car-intensive lifestyles. This includes greater investment in public transit and biking infrastructure, and using highway funds to repair of existing roads rather than building new are wider highways. State and federal governments should also assist efforts currently being led by cities to encourage walkable communities and innovative uses of technology that connect travelers to more travel options and shared vehicles.

Many transportation leaders have already learned this lesson. Said Jeannette Orsino, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of Regional Transit Authorities, “The findings are further evidence that the Massachusetts legislature got it right when they passed the Transportation Improvement  law in 2012 . . . Residents throughout the  Regional Transit Authority (RTA) communities have seen a increase in public transit funding for needed new service and all the RTAs are engaged in a comprehensive effort to identify service needs for students, seniors and employees.  Working together to identify and enhance mobility options and opportunities is a ongoing challenge but one that can be met and accomplished.”

U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group have been leaders in following and explaining the ongoing shift away from driving through a series of reports on the trend, including a study last month of major highway expansion plans that do not make sense in light of these ongoing travel trends.

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