A transformative change for American transport

25 February 2016  •  Author(s): Andrew Bata, UITP Regional Manager, North America

Americans have had a long love affair with the car, but cities around the country have shown increasing interest in supporting a more multi-modal transportation policy in recent years – even in places long-associated with the automobile. Changes in demographics, technological advances and societal attitudes are all thought to be contributing to this shift. Indeed, after 50 years of ever-increasing reliance on cars, that trend seems to have changed.

A transformative change for American transport

Demographics – social trends The United States is changing rapidly. A recent study by the Department of Transit (DOT) titled ‘Beyond Traffic: Trends and Choices 20451’ warns of an oncoming wave of demographic and technological changes (see Figure 1 on page 41).

Until recently, Baby Boomers represented the largest portion of the U.S. population. They are now aging and by 2045, those over 65 will have increased by 77%. Because one third of older Americans have a disability that limits their mobility, this part of the population will increasingly need to rely on public transit.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Millennials, an even larger segment of the population – 73 million Millennials compared to 68 million people aged 50 to 68. This group is driving even less per capita than the population as a whole. Between approximately 2000 and 2010, Millennials reduced the number of miles driven per capita by roughly 20% (see Figure 2 on page 42).

What is the cause of this decline? There are many variables to consider. In 1998, 64.4% of teenagers had obtained a driver’s license within a year of eligibility. At approximately this same time, statutes regarding the issuance of drivers’ licenses changed to a graduated programme throughout the country. This means that young people only by degrees earn the right to drive independently. As a result, initial access to a driver’s license is not nearly as alluring as it was a generation ago. Only 44% of teenagers today get a license within a year of eligibility.

Technology also plays a strong role. This is the first generation to grow up during their formative years with the internet. Through the use of Skype, Facebook, and many other social media sites as well as the presence of Amazon and other online stores, Millennials are more likely to shop and socialise online than travel to see others in person or visit a bricks-and-mortar store. Technological developments also reduce the need to own a car. Instead, they can rely on the shared economy – the advent of the smartphone has generated services like Uber, ZipCar, Via, and Citibike.

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