A report released last April by the Frontier Group contained an eyebrow-raising statistic: It seems the number of kilometres driven in cars each year by Americans peaked around the turn of the century and has been declining ever since. In fact, it looks like America's
love affair with the automobile might finally be ending. And it's young people who are leading the change.
Among the findings revealed in the report:
Young people, defined as people between 16 and 34 years old, drove fewer 23% fewer kilometres in in 2009 than they did in 2001, while the number of kilometres travelled on public transit by the same group over the same time period rose 40%.
Between 2000 and 2010 the portion of 14 to 34-year-olds without a driver's license rose from 21% to 26% percent.
A survey found that 45% of young people have
consciously made an effort to replace driving with transportation alternatives, compared with only 32% of the older population.
Researchers elsewhere have observed the same trends. As Jane Armstrong reports in her (rather dramatically titled) article,
Car-free by Choice; Young Urbanites Ditching Wheels in Record Numbers:
A pair of recent studies by University of Michigan researchers drove home the profound social changes that are transforming driving habits across North America and the developed world. One study showed that the percentage of teenagers who obtain driver’s licences dropped from 46 per cent to 31 per cent from 1983 to 2008. Meanwhile, the number of older drivers over age 70 jumped from 55 per cent to 78 per cent…
A decade from now, if the downward trend continues as expected, there will be fewer 30-year-old drivers on the road than in any time in history. Driving could, in fact, become a pursuit of the middle-aged and elderly.
This is the trend I expected we'd start to see in about ten years' time, except it is happening right now.
So why are young people turning away from cars? The skyrocketing price of fuel is one reason the writers give. Rising unemployment is another, although the Frontier Group notes the trend is seen even among young people who are employed and relatively well-off. There's another, more profound reason: Apparently being able to stay connected via social media is actually becoming more important to young people than having a car of their own. If public transit can get you where you're going about as easily as a car can, and you can be safely typing on your smartphone the whole time, why drive?
Here at Home
Could we see the same trend in York Region? The facts here are a bit different: York Region is not an urban area but a suburban one, where it's normally assumed a car is required to get around. Plus our population is a bit older than the rest of the GTA, so you might expect trends among young people wouldn't have as much of an impact here.
But there's no doubt transit use in the area is growing. Over the past five years YRT has seen its ridership expand at a rate of about 10% per year, with the population as a whole growing only about 3% per year over the same timeframe. So we know transit is becoming more and more a part of people's life even here in the suburbs. And with new, large-scale projects underway to make the system an even faster and easier way to get around, I expect the number of people thinking about alternatives to driving will only increase.
Do you think transit will ever replace driving as a way to get around? Could you live here in York Region without a car? Post a comment and let us know.