New Report Shows New Jerseyans Are Driving Less

New Jerseyans’ Driving Is Down 2.1 Percent, Trailing National Trend

NJPIRG Law & Policy Center

NEWARK – New Jerseyans have cut their annual per-person driving miles by 2.1 percent since 2005, while the nation’s long term driving boom appears to have ended, according to a new report from the NJPIRG Law & Policy Center. New Jersey’s driving decline is slower than the national average of 6.9 percent since 2005. 

“In New Jersey, driving miles are down, just as they are in almost every other state – but less,” said Bersi Mesgna, NJPIRG Campus Organizer at Rutgers Newark. “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 use 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 New Jersey, people have reduced their driving miles by 5.5 percent per person since 2007, the peak year for vehicle miles traveled per person in the state. 

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. 

The driving decline in New Jersey is far slower than in neighboring states. In New York, annual per-person vehicle miles driven since 2005 have declined by 8.1%, in Pennsylvania by 10.4%, and in Delaware by 11.7%.

“New Jersey residents drive less when they have other transportation options,” said Ryan Lynch, associate director for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a non-profit advocacy organization.  “Pushing this trend are young people who give up their cars in favor of walkable, vibrant communities and empty nesters who relocate to be near transit and within walking distance of key amenities. The decline in New Jersey’s driving is a strong signal to Governor Christie to significantly invest in transit, walking, and biking projects now.”

Loren Whitaker, a junior at Rutgers-Newark and NJPIRG Student Board member, does not own a car. “I commute to class by train, and if the station is out of walking range, I ride my bike,” said Whitaker. “A few of my friends have cars, but the ones who do tend to carpool. One reason is the cost, but at the same time we understand the implications of burning gasoline. I would love to see better, cleaner public transportation become more widely available across the country.”

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

The end of the driving boom means that investment in mass transit, rather than in new highway construction, will become more and more important going forward. The Gateway Tunnel project, connecting New Jersey to Manhattan, would boost rail capacity on a major commuter route.

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

Download the info-graphic we created to illustrate the end of the Driving Boom. 

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NJPIRG Law & Policy Center works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation.