New California Data Shows Alternatives to Driving Taking Hold

Travel Share of Transit, Biking and Walking Doubles, Fitch Ratings Calls on Policy Makers to Adapt to Changing Needs


A comprehensive California state travel survey released this week shows a doubling since 2000 in the percentage of residents walking, biking, or using public transportation on a typical day.  The share of these trips in 2012 reached nearly 23 percent of total trips, up from 11 percent in 2000.

“These data provide more clear evidence that America’s driving boom is over,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “Governments need to wake up to this trend and invest more in these expanding modes of travel, rather than wasting money on new highways we often don’t need.”

The survey found that 49.7 percent of trips in 2012 were driving a car, van or truck – a drop from 60.2 percent in 2000. The percent of passenger trips on such vehicles remained flat at about 25 percent.

The new California data further indicate a national trend away from driving that has been led by Millennials. After nearly sixty years of near-constant increases, 2013 was the ninth year in a row that annual per-person driving miles have fallen. National Highway Administration data shows that among Americans aged 16 to 34, per-person driving miles fell 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.

“This increasing interest in many transportation choices is another reason why we are on the path to more sustainability in California,” said California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly in a press release. “Caltrans will continue improving the state’s transportation system to help ensure Californians have many viable choices for how to travel.”

Fitch, a leading bond rating agency, in a statement Wednesday responding to a variety of new data, called for reform. “Public transportation investment strategies will need to transform if trends toward increased multifamily housing, declines in driving, and increasing public transportation usage continue over the long run,” said Fitch. “In our view, the transportation needs of the next 50 years will be markedly different from those of the past 50 years. U.S. policymakers must begin adapting their current decisions to these future needs.”

Another report co-released earlier this week by Taxpayers for Common Sense and Smart Growth America, showed that, according to the most recent data, California aggressively focused its transportation investments on building new and wider highways. Forty percent of highway funds were spent on expanding highways rather than repair and maintenance, despite the fact that 39 percent of the state’s road miles were in poor condition.  A large backlog of rail and bus projects, as well as bike and pedestrian paths remains unfunded in California.

“How Americans get around is changing,” said Baxandall at U.S. PIRG. “Transportation policy needs to catch up to these trends.”

The California Household Travel Survey provides a snapshot of the travel behavior of approximately 109,000 persons from more than 42,000 households in 58 California counties in 2012 and into 2013. It is based on asking respondents to fill in travel diaries for a random day.

California is not the only state where driving has been in relative decline. A 2013 analysis of federal highway data by U.S. PIRG found reduced driving in 46 states.

U.S. PIRG has released a series of reports documenting this trend at the national, state and city level, as well as the connection to new technology.