Progressive Railroading


Newsletter Sign Up
Stay updated on news, articles and information for the rail industry

All fields are required.

Rail News Home Rail Industry Trends


Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Americans continue to drive less; transportation policy should reflect that trend, PIRG report says

Automobile driving in the United States continues to decline, a trend led by a younger generation of Americans who are seeking transportation alternatives such as transit and rail, according to a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

The report, titled "A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future," declares that the "driving boom," a 60-year period of steady increases in per-capita driving in the United States, is over.

"The unique combinations that fueled the driving boom — from cheap gas prices to the rapid expansion of the workforce during the baby boom generation — no longer exist," PIRG officials said in a press release. "Meanwhile, a new generation — the millennials — is demanding a new American dream less dependent on driving."

Despite the trend, U.S. transportation policy "remains stuck in the past," according to the report.

"Official forecasts of future vehicle travel continue to assume steady increases in driving, despite the experience of the past decade," PIRG officials said. "Those forecasts are used to justify spending vast sums on new and expanded highways, even as existing roads and bridges are neglected. Elements of a more balanced transportation system — from transit systems to bike lanes — lack crucial investment as powerful interests battle to maintain their piece of a shrinking transportation funding pie."

According to the report:

• Americans drove more miles nearly every year between the end of World War II and 2004. But, Americans drive no more total miles today than in 2004, and no more per person than in 1996.

• Americans took nearly 10 percent more trips on public transportation systems in 2011 than in 2005, while the nation also saw increases in commuting via bicycle and on foot.

• Young people aged 16 to 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than they did in 2001, a greater decline in driving than in any other age group. The recession was responsible for some of the decline, but not all.

• A return to steady growth in per-capita driving that characterized the boomers is unlikely to continue given their aging, the projected continuation of higher gas prices, anticipated reductions in the workforce, the peaking demand for vehicles and driver's licenses, and the amount of time Americans are willing to spend in travel.

PIRG officials suggest a new vision for transportation that supports the millennials and other Americans in their desire to drive less; revisits plans for new and expanded highways; plans future transportation projects by first evaluating future demand for driving; refocuses the federal role on transportation funding to emphasize repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure and expansion of transportation options; and uses transportation revenue where it "makes the most sense" rather than on the revenue source.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/15/2013