Millennials are less likely to buy and use a car than their baby-boomer parents, the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) concluded earlier this month. Higher gas prices, slower employment rates, and less suburban development are fueling the nation’s mileage drop.
“The Driving Boom—a [60-year] period of steady increases in per-capita driving in the U.S.—is over,” the report concluded. “A new generation is demanding a new American Dream less dependent on driving.”
But the report directly conflicts with predictions from various government agencies, including the Department of Transportation, which estimates car use will increase by 44 to 67 percent during the next 25 years.
PIRG came up with three scenarios for future car use: either car mileage per capita will climb back up to 2004 peak numbers, the current dip will represent an enduring shift, or the number of miles will continue to decline as other forms of transportation become more popular. “All three scenarios will put future driving well below recent government forecasts,” PIRG said.
PIRG, a consumer protection interest group, warned the U.S. government likely would use higher driving forecasts to “justify spending vast sums on new and expanded highways, even as existing roads and bridges are neglected.”
According to the PIRG report, the amount of total mileage driven by Americans skyrocketed between 1946 and 2004. After plateauing in 2004, the number of miles driven per person started decreasing in 2006. Meanwhile, the use of public transportation rose, with millennials leading the way.
Nathan Cook, 22, lives outside Atlanta, Ga. While his friends who marry and have children move to the suburbs and purchase cars, he and his single friends prefer to live close to the city and get around by bike, if possible. But as a musician, he admitted road trips, getting instruments to gigs, and showing up presentable to interviews are harder without a car. “I am looking for an opportunity to move to the city and use mass transportation … but also am looking forward to having a car that I can call my own.”
Hannah Vanbiber, 24, mostly agrees. After she totaled her car in August, she immediately started looking for a new one. But after a few carpool rides with friends, she changed her mind. “I decided it was better to keep the insurance money and save on the gas [by riding] with friends,” she said.
Vanbiber, who lives in Chattanooga, Tenn., plans to move to New York City, so she won’t be getting a car any time soon. But even if she wasn’t moving, she said she and her friends would much rather use public transit than own a car.
“Our generation has different priorities than the previous one, where ownership meant a lot,” she said. “It doesn’t so much anymore. We value travel, mobility, and urbanization.”