16-34 year olds: transit passenger miles up 40%, VMT down 23%, in 8 years (Transportation and the New Generation))

The California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) released their report “Transportation and the New Generation” last week (link is to USPIRG website).  The document, based on data from the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), reports profound shifts in travel behavior and lifestyle for 16-34 year olds.

These are some notable findings:

  • “From 2001 to 2009, the annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita—a drop of 23 percent.”
  • In 2009, 16 to 34-year-olds as a whole took 24 percent more bike trips than they took in 2001, despite the age group actually shrinking in size by 2 percent.
  • In 2009, 16 to 34-year-olds walked to destinations 16 percent more frequently than did 16 to 34-year- olds living in 2001.
  • From 2001 to 2009, the number of passenger-miles traveled by 16 to 34-year-olds on public transit increased by 40 percent.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to these changes.  Fuel has become more expensive (its cost has approximately doubled) and a recession has left many young people unemployed or underemployed.  Changing values and lifestyle aspirations are also contributing.  Young people value convenient access to goods, services, and social resources; they are moving from outer suburbs to inner suburbs and urban areas.  More than individuals in other age groups, they report making an effort to reduce driving trips in order to reduce environmental impact.  Further, their comfortability with mobile communication devices helps them to make alternatives to drive-alone travel more convenient, for example by looking up real-time transit arrival estimates.  Mobile devices also enable people to remain connected to work and friends onboard transit, through email, texting, phone calls, and social networks.  It is unsafe (and, in many cases, illegal) to use this technology when driving a car.

In short, indications are that the trend toward less driving and more travel by transit, biking, or walking, is likely to continue post-recession.  We see this by looking at employed and higher income young people, who are still increasing their use of transportation alternatives.  “From 2001 to 2009, young people (16-34 years old) who lived in households with incomes of over $70,000 per year increased their use of public transit by 100 percent, biking by 122 percent, and walking by 37 percent” (page 26).  The average young person (age 16- 34) with a job drove 10,700 miles in 2009, compared with 12,800 miles in 2001.

Planners at the local, state, and national levels must take note.  A continued shift in transportation trends means that demand for public transit services, car-sharing, pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and other transportation options will increase significantly.

Transit agencies: Share this report and communicate these trends to local transportation planners and citizens.  If your agency publishes an annual report, include a page in the annual report that identifies broad nationwide trends in travel behavior.  Transit’s constituents, partners, and funders need to understand its importance in the new transportation landscape.

Aaron is the founding principal of Trillium Solutions, Inc. He brings experience that includes 12 years of web-development with 8 years in public transportation, with knowledge of fixed-route transportation, paratransit, rural transportation, and active transportation modes. Aaron is a recognized expert in developing data standards, web-application design, digital communications, and online marketing strategy. He originally developed Trillium’s GTFS Manager, and has played a key role in the development of the GTFS data specification since 2007.