Much of the millennial generation ? roughly 77 million Americans born between 1983 and 2000 ? is decidedly lukewarm when it comes to Americans? century-long love affair with the automobile. They appear to prefer biking, walking, taking mass transit and sharing cars, exhibiting behavior that could have a profound effect on transportation and land-use policies for years to come.
?Transportation policy tends to be a generation behind, we?re still trying to build our grandfather?s interstate highway system,? said Phineas Baxandall, a senior analyst with the consumer group U.S. PIRG. Policymakers should not only accommodate Gen Y?s desire to drive less, but encourage it, he said.
?We?ve spent a number of years talking about millennials and how they have different sensibilities when it comes to transportation,? said Minnesota state Sen. Scott Dibble, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. ?Now we have to respond with policy.?
Entering adulthood during the most recent recession, many millennials are too debt-laden and underemployed to afford a car. They see mass transit, biking and walking as not only cheaper, but also good for their health and the environment.
In the past decade, more and more young people have chosen to drive less ? in stark contrast to the Gen X and baby boomer generations, where a driver?s license was the ticket to adulthood and freedom from their parents.
According to a 2013 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, less than half (about 44 percent) of teens obtain a driver?s license within 12 months of the minimum age for licensing in their respective state. Roughly 54 percent are licensed before their 18th birthday. AAA says the findings are a significant drop from two decades ago, when two-thirds of teens were licensed by the time they were 18.
The reasons for the decline likely include the rise of telecommuting, online commerce, housing options that tout walkability and social media.
The recession that hit in 2008 slowed economic growth, particularly for millennials entering the workforce, Lacey Plache, chief economist for the auto website Edmunds.com.Plache said. For someone still camped in his parents? basement, buying a car doesn?t seem terribly practical.
?Millennials are not driving much, and it seems to come down to cost,? said Michael Green, AAA spokesman. ?The weakness in the economy has disproportionately affected millennials, and owning a car can cost money, plus gas and maintenance.?