Ditchin’ the Car

Our Gen Yer’s Wheels of Choice

According to a recent article in Kiplinger, members of the so-called “Generation Y” are driving less than their parents’ generation. Today, drivers aged 21-30 only account for 14% of miles driven, down from 21% in 1995. The article asserts that young people are more likely than ever to ride transit or use car sharing systems. Bicycles aren’t mentioned in the piece, but this age group’s growing disdain for the automobile appears to be a contributing factor in the growing use of bicycles for transportation. This idea is certainly supported by what we see among our teenagers and their friends, many of whom are showing little interest in obtaining their driver’s licenses.


16 Responses to “Ditchin’ the Car”

  • Fergie348 says:

    Just think – that’s without any substantial rise in fuel costs. If we could get the effective price floor of gasoline/diesel to $4.50 per gallon, imagine the mode shift among Gen Y at that point..

    We need to raise excise taxes on fuels, then quickly turn that money into infrastructure improvements for HPVs, buses and rail. If only it were that simple..

  • Pete says:

    If only we’d invented Facebook and texting 30 years ago, another couple of “Gen’s” would have had no reason to ever leave the house! :)

  • Alan says:


    You called that one… LOL!

  • Adam says:

    Taking this a step further, I would argue that this statistic is not simply a result of people choosing bicycles and transit over cars. I believe it has more to do with an increased preference among this (my) generation to live in denser, mixed-use areas, which inherently provide a whole host of benefits including increased sense of community; better access to entertainment, arts, and culture; AND the ability to spend less time in a car and more time living your life. So I would argue that the rise in bicycle commuting popularity in this age range is largely a by-product of housing/neighborhood choice.

  • Androo says:


    Absolutely. I’m another example. I live in the heart of downtown in a major urban center, and can’t even fathom owning a car at this point. Parking, congestion, and one-way streets, all make actually using a car in the city a profound pain in the tail, to say nothing of all the associated ownership costs.

  • Buck-50 says:

    The most telling part of the article was that Gen-ys want to be able to use their smartphones/pdas/laptops/whatever to “be productive” on their way to work.

    Driving for most folks has crossed over that line from “fun” to “chore.” And if your commute is pushing an hour, that’s a whole lot of time to be disconnected from your network every day.

    Even in a small city like mine, cars are a PITA- parking, garage space, maintenance… ugh.

    this looks less like a trend towards bikes then simply a trend away from cars. But less cars is good. I’ll take it.

  • Chris Morfas says:

    Pete has hit on a key point. In the age of social media, there’s less of a need to drive to socialize.

    Let’s not ignore economics, either. For many families, cutting back on payments for the extra car and insurance for the teen means huge savings.

    My non-driving 18-year old also has a bit of altruism in her and has begun to enjoy the feeling of self-reliance that comes from learning how to bicycle or take transit around town.

  • JulieM says:

    This post made my day. In my early 20s I had a car and discovered what a PITA both car ownership and car commuting were, so I made a conscious choice to move to a region (in this case the Boston area) where I could be “car free”. 15 years later, I am a multi-modal commuter and do have a car again, but still think of the car as the “last resort”. I can do this because I chose to live in a town with great public transit options and changed jobs so that I could realistically chose to take the MBTA or bicycle.
    And one of my brothers lives outside of Philly but he and his fiancee chose a home near the commuter rail so that they did not have to drive into work (they work at the same firm in Center City). They manage living the ‘burbs with one car.
    When we were making our housing/transit decisions it was considered against the grain. It is heartening to see that younger people are catching on to the hidden costs of being car-dependent.
    However, besides car-makers, I wonder how this bodes for real estate and employers? As members of Gen-Y get older, start families, etc., will they continue with a live-style that can abandon the car or will they feel the call of subdivision and suburban office parks?

  • doug in seattle. says:

    This sounds true. Neither I nor most of my friends drive or own cars. Living in a big city has a lot to do with this, I think. I would say half my friends bike and half bus, with a few drivers mixed in.

  • BikeBike says:

    I posted this on our Facebook fan page and this comment from a friend of mine sums up quite nicely why a portion of the younger generation is passing on car ownership –

    “Has nothing to do with eco friendliness or awareness, and more to do with the fuc%ed up employment situation and cost of living, people in their 20s can’t afford a car because they all have sh!t jobs or are still in school getting ready for sh!t jobs.”

    Don’t know if I could have said it better myself!

  • Stephen says:

    As a married 52-year old with a 12-year daughter, I’ve probably traveled the philosophical road to Damascus there and back in a car, on foot, and on a bicycle. I used to adore cars–I drew pictures of them in elementary school and had my first car at 16. I’m still seduced by cars on occasion. But I regret all the money and time I spent on them. They were all in the end polluting money pits.

    But I always had a bike and rode everywhere, and I was never opposed to a nice multi-day hike in the mountains. I used to want to (and did) live in rural areas with beautiful vistas, and thought I’d probably end up in some outer ‘burb (actually ended up in an older mid-town neighborhood within easy bicycling distance of downtown), but as I’ve gotten older, a downtown condo appeals to me more and more, even with a child in school. I want her to be as independent as I was, but not as dependent on a car.

    Once again, it is the lifestyle choices of the youth (and a few boomers who wised up) that is changing the social and transportation fabric of the country. And that is a good thing.

  • kanishka new england says:

    i have no idea what generation i’m in, but i do remember my first desire when getting my own place was to be out of the suburbs and as downtown as possible.

    over time, i’ve had to compromise. younger generations still have to keep in touch with older generations, so you can’t pick up and move to huge city 2 hours away by car and still expect to keep a relationship with teh people you left behind

    now i mostly find mysefl in suburbs, biking agianst the trend

  • randomray says:

    Not to rain on your parade here but I think BikeBike is right . First of all if you can’t get a job you can’t afford a car . Secondly Gen Y is in a a dip after the baby boom ” less people ‘ . The economy is the decideing factor though I can see a huge difference in the number of cars on my commute and I don’t see any more cyclists , if anything I see less of those too . With the loss of millions of jobs over the last ten years , that means less cars on the road . It doesn’t nesscessarily mean more cyclists on the road .

  • Alan says:

    I believe it’s more than just economic factors. Young people (and we have a lot of them around here) just aren’t interested in driving the way we were at that age. Driving seems to have lost its status as a right of passage. I don’t know whether it’s the reasons stated in the article (electronics, concerns over the environment, etc.) or whether it’s just not “cool” in the way it used to be, but for some young people, something has definitely changed in their attitudes toward cars.


    PS – Studies have shown there’s been an increase in bicycle commuting in recent years.

  • Dave says:

    One stat worth noting is in the US, HALF of households receive some kind of government assistance. With real unemployment figures at around 19% and the number of 20-something people who prefer to live on welfare and do odd jobs under the table (all over my neighborhood in Long Beach, CA)… they live more localized, save on car payments and car insurance. The weather is good year ’round here… and there are few children in their lives, so far. I see A LOT of young people who truly don’t want to work… there’s a different ethic there.Just some things to consider.

  • voyage says:

    If there is a trend (an empirical matter for which there are plenty of state and local databases to mine), my hunch is that it is driven on a macro level by decades-long declines in real incomes, real wealth, and expectations thereof in terms of growth. I could be mistaken in my hunch, but the data are out there: each state knows (within some margin of error) when people were born and when they obtain motor vehicle licenses to explore the premise. Impressions, anecdotal evidence, hopeful speculation and such don’t really explore or answer in a valid way.

    Here’s a useful starting point (though limited and somewhat dated):

    Is bicycle transportation an “inferior good”?

    As the admonition goes, “Do the research.”

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