Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Examining Millennials' Roles in the Decline of VMT

In our discussion about transportation-related emissions, we looked at the role of the Millennial generation in the recent decline of Vehicle Miles Traveled. Are young people looking at travel differently from their parents, preferring methods other than the car? Will that affect future trends in transportation? As a Millennial myself, I was skeptical. 

A recent article in The Atlantic Cities examines the driving habits of Millennials (link below). According to the author, twenty-somethings today drive less than their parents did when they were in their twenties. But, as the article asks, "Is that because of the recession? High gas prices? A lasting shift in consumer demand? What will happen to today’s 20-year-olds as they enter their 30s, raise families, and consider moving to the suburbs?" No answer is given, probably because at present none is available. But it may not matter. Even if, upon reaching their 30s, Millennials begin driving like their parents, total yearly VMT will still be affected by today's trends.

According to a study conducted by the Frontier Group, an environment-focused think tank, there are three likely scenarios in VMT trends for the near future: "Ongoing Decline," "Enduring Shift," and "Back To The Future." In the former, the current trend is continued, while in the latter the 50-year trend prior to 2004 is resumed. The Enduring Shift trend represents a change in the preference of Millennials, but controlled for economic decline.

These three trends are compared on the graph to what was expected by transportation planners: a continuation of driving habits as seen from 1946-2004. The black "actual" line seems to be following the predicted "Enduring Shift" trend so far. From the Frontier Group's web page ( "The Driving Boom - a six decade-long period of steady growth in per-capita driving in the United States - is now over. We don't yet know what will replace it." A lot of that uncertainty seems to come from Millennials. Only the future will tell how VMT will change, along with emissions and other associated effects.

Link to the article:

Thanks to Mike Sellinger for reviewing this post.

1 comment:

  1. I am also curious about how millennials value on decisions associated with mode choices. The major reason why choose to drive among other modes including a bicycle, bus, light train, and etc. would be the short travel time and convenience. If the reduction of VMT is not because of economic reason such as a recession and/or high gas price, it would be very positive signal for the future. If millennials think riding a bike is a cool new trend, it is sure that they lead a new trend to auto-oriented society of U.S.


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