We are being green – car travel now at 1995 levels in the US

20130429-202743.jpg Car travel in the US has been declining since 2005, that’s pre-financial crisis! In the age group 16-34 year olds car travel dropped by 23% between 2001 and 2009 – wow! Public transport is now cool!

An article in the Washington Post quoted some research done by Doug Short that looked at car travel in the US per capita and found that car travel has been in decline since 2005 and is now at 1995 equivalent levels.

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The article from the Washington Post hypothesized that maybe it wasn’t just rising petrol prices that was driving less car travel, they also suggested that it maybe for other reasons.



–The cost of driving has gone up. In some ways, it’s become more expensive to drive a car over the years. Rising gas prices are the most visible factor, but there are others. As I noted last week, there’s evidence that high student debt is hampering some younger borrowers from buying cars. And auto-insurance rates have soared in recent years, driven by a boom in commodity prices (which make repairs more expensive) and higher health care costs.

–The recession. This is a big one. If fewer people have jobs, fewer people will commute. That said, unemployment can’t explain the entire drop. The Frontier Group notes that driving is down “even among young people who are employed and/or are doing well financially.”

–It’s harder to get a license. From 1996 to 2006, every state enacted graduated driving laws that make it more cumbersome for young people to get licenses. “Young people must now take more behind-the-wheel training (which is more expensive), fulfill additional requirements for permits, and once they are allowed to drive, they are often restricted to driving in the daytime without passengers.” The number of younger Americans without a driver’s license has risen from 21 percent to 26 percent since 2001.

–More younger people are living in transit-oriented areas. Younger Americans appear to be more likely to live in denser, transit-oriented neighborhoods. Brooklyn, say. Surveys suggest that young people “prefer to live places where they can easily walk, bike, and take public transportation.”
Ecological concerns play a small role too, judging from survey data: “Some young people purposely reduce their driving in an effort to curb their environmental impact.”

–Technology is making it easier to go car-free. For one, there’s Facebook: “Communications technology, which provides young people with new social networking and recreational possibilities, has become a substitute for some car trips.”

But technology can also bolster the appeal of mass transit: “Websites and smart phone apps that provide real-time transit data make public transportation easier to use, particularly for infrequent users.”

Whatever the reasons and it is probably all the above, it is certainly good for the environment.

I wonder if the same trends are being seen in Australia? With our worries about Australian energy security and rising petrol prices I am sure if it hasn’t happened here already it will be coming.

One Comment on “We are being green – car travel now at 1995 levels in the US

  1. There is an upswing in public transport patronage in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case in Sydney and Hobart. The increasing AUD has buffered Australians from petrol price increases, so I doubt that would be a big driver here. I remain hopeful that the increase is due to an informed public making better choices.

    Cosgrove, D. (2011). Long-term patterns of Australian public transport use. Australian Transport Research Forum 2011. Adelaide: Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics

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