Driving on the Decline, Especially with Millennials

A new consumer report released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) shows what we long expectedthat driving is on the decline.

What’s really interesting is this chart from the Transportation Initiative. It highlights how the U.S. Department of Transportation overestimated growth in road travel for 2012 by almost 11 percent. They estimated that vehicle travel would rise significantly. In reality, it’s decreased. Who’s leading the trend away from driving? Millennials.

Figure 1: U.S. Vehicle Miles Traveled (in trillions) as tracked by the Federal Highway Administration’s Travel Volume Trends (“Actual”) and as projected by U.S. DOT’s C&P reports (by year reports are dated).

According to their report, Millennials, more than previous generations, are driving less and exploring alternatives, like biking and public transportation.They cite several reasons for the decrease, like the rise in gas prices and the economy. For example, tighter pockets from the recession make buying a car a less feasible option. Millennials are also more likely to live in urban areas, where public transportation and walkable routes are more common. Plus, the rise in transportation apps like Google Maps and Muni+ have made navigating public transportation less of a headache by displaying real-time transit departures and arrivals along with suggestions for alternate routes.

When we look back at the “driving boom” of 1946-2004, people hit the road in huge numbers for a lot of reasons that made sense: low gas prices, the growth of suburbs, and the birth of Baby Boomers. Today, increasing numbers of Baby Boomers are retiring, gas prices have increased, and Millennials have developed new preferences for travel, including car sharing.

While the U.S. PIRG suggests that this decrease could be temporary, they also argue that driving will never reach the peak numbers that the U.S Department of Transportation estimated.

So what does this mean for the future of road travel? For one, you could be looking at less traffic on your daily commute (which we all agree would be a welcomed effect). The decrease could also mean more cities invest in public transportation and bike routes. In Metromile’s own backyard, San Francisco recently launched “WalkFirst,” an initiative to improve pedestrian safety. One of the most positive effects of this downward driving trend is a possible reduction in pollution. Less gas, less smog and cleaner air. That’s something we can all get behind.

What do you think about this trend? Does it surprise you that Millennials are driving less? Have you starting driving less? Are there certain kinds of trips where you’ve opted for alternative modes of transportation? Share your thoughts below.