Report shows national decline in driving

Fewer Americans are driving and more workers are looking for transportation alternatives, according to a report released last month.

Released at the end of August by ConnPIRG, a Connecticut-based consumer group, the report revealed that fewer Americans drive to work and an increasing number of people prefer to work from home. Though the report states that the recent economic downturn is not a cause of the trend, it recommends that policymakers adapt policies to account for these trends, such as increasing transportation alternatives.

“In Connecticut, driving miles are down, just as they are in almost every state — but less [than other states],” Director of the ConnPIRG Education Fund Abe Scarr said in a press release. “It’s time for policymakers to recognize that the driving boom is over. We need to reconsider expensive highway expansions and focus on alternatives such as public transportation and biking.”

The trends highlighted in the report have had implications for the number of people in Connecticut working at home. According to the Connecticut census, a higher percentage of those with jobs worked from home in 132 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities from 2005-’11 than they did in 2000.

“Fifty years ago in New Haven, many residents could walk or take streetcars to work. But today, there is a mismatch between where jobs are located and where workers live, which I think contributes to very high unemployment rates in some neighborhoods, particularly among younger adults,” said Mark Abraham, executive director of DataHaven, a data-focused non-profit research group in New Haven. According to Abraham, only 27 percent of jobs in the metropolitan area are accessible by a 90-minute rail commute.

Abraham added that lack of access raises questions of fairness: According to the 2012 DataHaven Wellbeing Survey, only 77 percent of low-income families regularly had access to a car when they needed it, versus 98 percent of families making more than $50,000 per year. The 2012 Wellbeing Survey was the largest survey ever conducted in the Greater New Haven area, according to Abraham.

Amanda Kennedy, Connecticut director at the Regional Planning Association, said that fewer people driving will have a number of effects: long-distance commutes may increase, demand for office space may decline, regional connectivity may grow and improving rail service will become increasingly important.

“We at [the Regional Planning Association] are keeping an eye on this trend and are thinking about its potential implications,” Kennedy said. “Anecdotally, we’re seeing examples where people work from home several days a week and then commute a rather long distance — even by plane ­— to a central office further away for a few days.”

The report also highlights that driving miles per person have decreased over time among the Millennial generation. The report describes the generation as becoming increasingly focused on transportation alternatives.

“Younger workers in particular are looking to spend less time driving in a car, and more time on their smartphones, or walking or biking to work, which is one of the reasons why car ownership rates are falling,” Abraham said. He added that car ownership rates and vehicle miles traveled among young adults began to decline well before the recession hit in 2007, meaning the recession was not the cause of the trend.

Abraham said that given these trends, cities like New Haven and its suburbs must enable workers to live close to their workplace. His suggestions included locating mixed-income housing in suburban areas, building more housing downtown and improving transportation services.

Connecticut drivers have reduced their driving mileage by 3.45 percent since 2005, according to the report.

 

Contact lillian childress at lillian.g.childress@yale.edu .

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