Americans are dumping their cars

More people are relying on public transportation in a time of high gas prices, and young adults in particular don't really want a set of wheels.

By Bruce Kennedy Feb 5, 2013 8:07AM
Image: Frustrated woman driving car -- Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty ImagesIt may be hard to believe, especially if your commute involves a daily trial-by-traffic jam, but there indications that many Americans are driving less.

Business Insider recently looked at some very informative graphs on this topic. One from the Department of Transportation shows the number of U.S. vehicle miles driven, which had been rising steadily since the 1970s, declined at the start of the recession in 2008 and has remained flat ever since. Another graph, from the traffic information service Inrix, notes average commute times during peak hours have also been dropping steadily as gas prices rise.

Some of these trends in our driving habits may reflect a changing economy. The recession certainly prompted many cash-strapped drivers to economize and cut back on unnecessary trips.

But a study done last spring by the Frontier Group and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (.pdf download) found that Americans have been driving less since the start of the new millennium, well before the recession -- and that the average American was driving 6% less per year in 2011 compared with 2004.

New technologies also have us driving less. Why risk a traffic delay en route to an office meeting when everyone can teleconference? And if you can shop online, you can probably give up an extra trip or two to local mall.

Another factor is people ages 16 to 34, who the study says are driving less than previous generations and more readily adopting non-car transportation alternatives.

The Urban Land Institute reports that many younger Americans are opting go without a car in exchange for living in smaller homes near public transportation and in communities that have amenities like shops and restaurants within walking distance. For many young adults, according to the ULI's annual report, "affordable mass transit beats the hassle and expense of owning a car (not just loan payments, insurance, repairs, gas, but also parking). Others rent when they need to drive, using shared cars."

Many researchers, in fact, "are seeing the young with no interest in cars and driving," Alan Pisarski, a transportation and traffic trends analyst, told Business Insider, "at the same time that joblessness among the young is colossal -- not to mention their parents' joblessness -- or their college loans."

And with more older drivers handing in their car keys, public transportation becoming faster and more reliable, more people living in urban areas and gas prices remaining high, some observers wonder whether driving in developed nations has reached a saturation point.

The concept of what The Economist calls "peak car" is far from certain. And the magazine acknowledges that there's a good chance economic recovery will put more people back in driver's seats -- especially in developing nations where car sales are booming.

But it notes that countries like China, which has the world's biggest car market, might hit the "sprawl wall" sooner than developed nations did and find gridlock and poor air quality not worth the trade-off.

More on moneyNOW

Mar 8, 2013 2:49PM
Especially the 2001 Buick Century, fuel gauge went bad, the orange anti-freeze was eating away at the internal nylon gaskets, the anti-sway bar was cracked on the right side.  To fix everything was going to cost 7000 and no guarantee.
Feb 7, 2013 4:17PM
 I'm GenX and I have always hate driving. Never got my license until age 25. I was the oddball among my peers. I guess I was born 20 years too early! I'm glad to see today's young people are starting to turn away from the car obsession. I have never liked driving and would love to see some viable alternatives to driving for every errand. I live in an urban area of a suburban-ish city and am able to walk to work every day. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to not be 100% dependent on my car!

Feb 7, 2013 8:52AM
In my teens when the transportation cost was five cents and I couldn't afford that price, so I jogged twenty blocks to high school with my books and sweat to smell up the class room but that kept me in great shape until today. We had no special passes to ride the buses and no free lunch. The streets of Manhattan were empty of parked cars and the black smooth asphalt streets were great for the steel wheel roller skates as well as a place for block to block street stick ball games. Only the well-to-do had cars parked on the streets and there were electric cars and electric trucks as well as horse and wagons where at different corners there were horse drinking fountains for horse watering. When the oil runs out we will be back to these watering fountains.
Feb 7, 2013 8:23AM
It was the early 1950's that the transportation in NYC was five cent to go from the furthest points in Brooklyn to the northern points of the Bronx. That ride is now $2.50 or more. But wait, in the early 1920's that ride was still five cents but there was all kinds of public transportation. In Manhattan you had the 1st ave elevated train, the 3rd ave  and the 6th ave elevated trains, as well as all the trolleys that were below them and the cross town trolley's as well. . They were torn down to improve the value of the real-estate market and to enter the gasoline  and diesel powered buses for transportation. They had electric cars then as well, but the gasoline engines were cheaper to use so the electric cars were put out of business. The oil people put a stop to the pollution free transportation systems. At he start of the elevated trains there were steam locomotives that ran the trains, but that was changed to the electric, pollution free trains of the later 1920's.A gallon of gas was cheap , like 5 cents per gallon and the gas for cooking was cheap as well which then was made from coke and was the deadly gas , carbon monoxide which was replaced with natural gas  in the later years. Maybe we should go back to overhead electric rails to prevent congestion and to improve transportation. The real-estate people wouldn't like this to happen.
Feb 6, 2013 7:47PM

Gas Prices are at $ 3.59 and keep rising. Less people are driving, means less money for feds in tax revenue.  Cost of maintenance to highways and bridges keep rising and the infrastructure needs are skyrocketing, irrespective of not having tax revenue to fix them.  Corrosion bacteria does not understand what goes on they keep producing corrosion by eating salt and drinking contaminated water.  Having said all that, I must be a corrosion bacteria because I don't understand why gas prices keep going up when less and less people are driving to work, urban commuters give up their cars for junk yards and sleep in once a week? I'm so confused? Who own gas companies in America? 

Feb 6, 2013 5:49PM
young adults are not interested in driving? well, just look at all the ugly azz vehicles that are out there, id not want to drive either.
Feb 6, 2013 1:30PM
Years ago (80's) we had 5 vehicles for 3 people. One was a classic we still own. Now, we have 3 vehicles for three people. The "classic"  (54 MG TD) hasn't run since '72.  Many "modern" cities in the U.S. (including energy capitol Houston) do no provide enough bike lanes, or safe sidewalks for pedestrians. We are trying to enter a "new brave world". Yes, I consider myself a Texan, and I can only feel sad for many Californians that really don't "get it". Kalifornian propaganda only serves to keep their citizens ignorant. seek the truth, and the truth will set you free. Kalifornia, please do not bother to start your vehicle to get the newspaper (Rag) at the end of your driveway, or the doughnuts produced by illegals when you want a breakfast snack.
Feb 6, 2013 12:11PM
40% of the price of gas at the pump is due to oil futures trading and related speculation.


Ban futures trading. As capitalism holds us all hostage.

Chavez's Socialized/Nationalized gas in Venezuela costs 25 CENTS at the pump in U.S. dollars.

Feb 5, 2013 5:40PM
Some people can thank their Republican Governors for turning down Transportation money to build subways, train lines, roads, speed rails, and increase busing routes in their states. Republicans are just plain dumb to go along with them.
Feb 5, 2013 5:37PM
Makes sense to me Bruce Kennedy!  Walking is good for us.  Cleaner air is even better.  I've just moved to an up and coming city with all the amenities of the Capital, nearby.  It's built for, close to home, shopping with hike & bike trails, newer infrastructure, cultural district.  Every shop I could possibly want or need nearby.  I still have two cars but planning to unload one along with all the expenses.  More free time for exercise, living in low maintenance complex.  Technology has freed up time, and expense, Waste not, want not! 
Feb 5, 2013 5:36PM
I want a 500 hp Corvette, or maybe the new Cadillac ATS, so that I can look big and bad while I'm sitting in stop and go traffic for 90 minutes to get to work.  And I want that  $2000 insurance bill for the car so I can brag about how much the insurance costs.  Hey, it costs a lot to look this good !!
Feb 5, 2013 5:27PM
I love my car, a Honda civic LX.  I bike to, but only for recreation.  My Honda gets very good mileage and it isn't a hybred.  I have my car all paid (two years old) as well as my house and no credit card debt, but even if I had to give up my car, I would not.  I do not need it for work, but I use it for errands.  I can also use my bike.  I get plenty of exersise walking my dog and other sports.  I hope to drive till I am 100, if I live that long and my optometrist and my doctors O.K. I am physically able to drive.  my car requires very little maintainence and my car insurance rates are fairly low from State Farm Insurance as my driving record is good.  Public transportation is lousey in the U.S., but even if it were good, I wouldn't give up my car for it.
Feb 5, 2013 5:24PM
My two youngest prefer to take the bus to work and back rather than sit in traffic and search for a parking spot.  On the weekends they tend to drive to a full service mall, have a meal, see a movie, etc., while the car sits in the parking lot.  They take the airport bus to the airport rather than pay big parking bills. In other words, the car is not their life......its' an option when other or cheaper methods fail !   Although retired, my wife and I are down to one car, and we take a taxi to the airport when we travel.  None of this was a "decision" made for any reason, it just seemed to happen quite naturally !
Feb 5, 2013 5:01PM
I drive less now because my employer lets me work from home.

But even for those that still commute, I'm surprised that so few ask their boss for at least a partial telecommute (1-2 days/week), or perhaps a different work schedule. Work from 7-3, or 11-7. 

It seems ridiculous to drive an hour or more for what would normally be a 20 minute drive. And it's all done to be in the office during the arbitrary hours of 9-5.

Feb 5, 2013 4:47PM

Could this spur the repopulation of city centers and bring people in from the bedroom communities?  I'd hope so, then we could control urban sprawl somewhat.

Feb 5, 2013 3:55PM
I live in the suburbs of San Francisco. It's a 75 miles round trip for me into 'The City', five dollar daily bridge toll,  65 minute commute (one way before rush hour) and if your 'lucky' twenty dollars a day 'early bird special' parking fee. Meanwhile, if I take the much maligned Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART), it's a 7.5 mile round trip, 45 minute (one way) ride and about $11 round trip. BART averages over 300,000 riders a day.
Feb 5, 2013 3:36PM
What happened to the law of supply and demand?  There is now less demand yet gasoline prices continue rising?  Why?
Feb 5, 2013 3:05PM
they will tell you anything but the  truth.  god forbid the high price of gas has anything to with people  driving less  miles.  put me back to  one  car.  use insurance  money saved on the other car to put  gas  in one i can afford to  drive. always had to vehicles  all  my  life good old  days  are  gone . they are really going to  be  lost  when us baby boomers  die  off  lol
Feb 5, 2013 2:49PM

six mid 20's young people  living in Los Angeles sharing a house..all working  None have cars...too expensive...spend 1/10 of what it would cost, by using public trans, walking and biking....


Feb 5, 2013 2:36PM
There was a time in this Country, when many people defined who and what they were, by the make, model and price of the vehicle they drove. Cars were a matter of status for many. The youth of today, are not impressed with that attitude. To them, cars are a means to an end.....nothing more. If they can NOT use one, then they choose to avoid the cost of owning one. America's "love affair" with the ending, which I think, in the long run, is a good thing.
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