New Report: Long-Term Drop in How Much Wisconsinites Drive, Youth Desire More Transportation Options

Media Contacts

WISPIRG Foundation

Milwaukee, WI – A new report released today by the WISPIRG Foundation and the Frontier Group demonstrates that Wisconsinites, like drivers across the country, have been driving less since the middle of the last decade. The report, Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less and What it Means for Transportation Policy, shows that young people in particular are decreasing the amount they drive and increasing their use of transportation alternatives.

“For the first time in two generations, there has been a significant shift in how many miles Americans are driving each year,” said Bruce Speight, WISPIRG Foundation Director. “Policy makers on both the state and national level need to understand these trends when deciding how to focus our future transportation investments, especially when transportation dollars are so scarce.”

Transportation and the New Generation reveals that for the first time since World War II, Americans are driving less and have been doing so since the middle of last decade. The report shows that by 2011, the average American was driving 6 percent fewer miles per year than in 2004. The average Wisconsinite was driving nearly 500 fewer miles in 2010 than in 2004, when vehicles miles traveled (VMTs) and VMTs per capita peaked. 

“The shift away from six decades of in¬creasing vehicle travel to a new reality of slow-growing or even declining vehicle travel has potentially seismic implica¬tions for transportation policy,” says Benjamin Davis, analyst with Frontier Group. “It calls into question the very wisdom of our current transportation investment priorities.”

This trend away from driving is even more pronounced among young people. The average young person (age 16-34) drove 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than the average young person in 2001. The report also notes that a growing number of young Americans do not have driver’s licenses; from 2000 to 2010, the share of 14 to 34-year-olds without a license increased from 21 percent to 26 percent.  The percentage of 14-34 year-olds in Wisconsin without a driver’s license increased by 2 percent in this same time frame.

“As decision makers, we need to pay attention to emerging trends to make sure that our transportation infrastructure will meet our future needs,” said Wisconsin Senator Chris Larson. “In Wisconsin, we need to shift our thinking to reflect that our younger generations have a renewed reliance and commitment to public transportation.”

“This report shows young people are driving less and using more public transportation,” said State Representative Brett Hulsey. “If our transportation investments are a reflection of what people are doing and trends over time, then we should be increasing investment in transportation choices rather than slashing it.”

According to the report, between 2001 and 2009, the annual number of miles traveled by 16 to 34 year olds on public transit such as trains and buses increased by 40 percent.

“Metro Transit’s 14.9 million bus rides last year, an all-time record, was driven in part by the shift from auto usage to other modes like public transit, as this study clearly documents,” said Chuck Kamp, Madison Metro Transit Manager. “City and community leaders are now planning for a major transportation study that will answer the question, ‘what steps do we need to take to ensure Madison is preparing its transportation infrastructure for the future to attract workers, students,  and visitors to make Madison an even more attractive place to work and play?’” 

“I would rather have good public transportation options than the hassle and expense of driving a car,” sand Angela Lang, Student Association President at UW Milwaukee. “It’s time for our leaders to stop debating how much to spend expanding our grandparents’ transportation network and start figuring out how to build the infrastructure that my generation will need for the future.”
“America’s transportation preferences appear to be changing. Our elected officials need to make transportation decisions based on the real needs of Americans in the 21st century,” concluded Speight.


WISPIRG is a statewide membership-based, non-profit, non-partisan public interest organization that stands up to powerful interests.