I hate driving, actually. The only reason I do it is because my 10-year-old needs someone to cart him around the city. I consider myself as a weirdo on this front because I know most people love their cars.
A new study from U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group indicates that I may be more normal than I thought. It argues that "the driving boom" -from the end of World War II to 2004--is over. "Americans drive fewer total miles today than we did eight years ago, and fewer per person than we did at the end of Bill Clinton's first term," it says.
United States policy on transportation hasn't caught up to this phenomenon, the report argues. Plans for expanded roads and highways that were cooked up a decade ago are still in the works, even though the users might not be there to make them worthwhile. What's more, driving is down most dramatically among millennials, the generation aged 23 to 30, and the people who will make the most use of those roads over the next 50 years. Their habits tend to favor city-living (i.e., walking, transit and biking) and car sharing.
This trend is good news for the transportation community, which has been stuck in a dilemma of needing more money to fund roads and bridges but having nowhere to go for it. My National Journal cover story last week illustrates the difficulties of trying to fund transportation with the help of the private sector. Government officials see public-private partnerships as their only option for infusing cash into a state, but the long-term deals that involve tolling and concessions require the public to foot the bill for decades.
If PIRG's projections are right, the cost of maintaining our infrastructure won't be quite as high as some economists project. But with fewer drivers also comes less gas consumption. That's good for the environment but bad for the highway trust fund, funded by fuel tax and drivers' use of roads.
With decreased driving, the investment framework (be it public or private) might have to shift towards alternate forms of transportation. That idea has its own unique problems. When has anyone ever made money on a transit system?
Is PIRG on the mark in terms of its projections about reduced driving? How does the data change the way we should think about infrastructure? Will millennials' driving behavior increase when, like me, they have to start carting children to baseball games and martial arts classes? Is there a business opportunity to be developed in the country's overall change in behavior? If driving continues to decline, how far would that go toward solving the infrastructure funding shortfall?
(By the way, the study is co-authored by U.S. PIRG's Phineas Baxandall, a commenter on this blog, and Frontier's Tony Dutzik.)