Generation Twitter: Are America’s youth falling out of love with the motor car?

Travel patterns

Between 2001 and 2009 car travel by American youth declined 23%!

That isn’t a typo, it’s an outlier.  Like solar panel prices dropping by 80% in five years, or Indian grid losses being 25% of total generation.

Sure, there was the great recession and gasoline prices have tripled, but 23% is massive.  That is the equivalent of a whole generation waking up Canadian.

Before I get to the youth let’s have a quick look at Americans in general:

Using data from the Department of Transport’s Traffic Volume Trends we can see that the total vehicle miles travelled in America peaked in 2007 and have since declined by 3%.

This peak is presumably driven by a mix of high oil prices, the recession and changing behavior. In per capita terms the drop is more impressive:

Per capita vehicle miles travelled have fallen by 8% since peaking in 2005.  Between the recession and the tripling of gas prices 8% seems reasonable, but what about those kids?

The 23% drop figure comes from a report published last April called Transportation and the New Generation that used the data from the National Household Travel Survey.  It states that between 2001 and 2009 the average vehicle miles travelled by 16-34 year olds fell from 10,300 to 7,900 miles.

The fact this is so much greater than the national average suggests a value shift is underway in America’s youth, and there is more data to support this idea:

  • the decline was independent of employment status
  • the same youth cohort cycled 24% more often
  • they also walked 16% more frequently
  • travelled 40% more miles by public transport
  • those without a licence rose from 21% to 26%

The report also highlights the role of technology and social media in reducing the desire of the young to travel.  Furthermore it provides survey data that show young people have a growing preference for good local amenities, walk-ability and cycling facilities.

Perhaps the kids have caught the medium chill?  Perhaps they’ve gone all hipster?  Or perhaps they are just too busy tweeting?

Speaking of tweeting ;-)

Lindsay Wilson
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I founded Shrink That Footprint in November 2012, after a long period of research. For many years I have calculated, studied and worked with carbon footprints, and Shrink That Footprint is that interest come to life.

I have an Economics degree from UCL, have previously worked as an energy efficiency analyst at BNEF and continue to work as a strategy consultant at Maneas.  I have consulted to numerous clients in energy and finance, as well as the World Economic Forum.

When I’m not crunching carbon footprints you’ll often find me helping my two year old son tend to the tomatoes, salad and peppers growing in our upcycled greenhouse.

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