Younger Americans ditching driving?!

We’ve long wondered whether anything short of James Howard Kunstler’s worst nightmare predictions for the Long Emergency will ever dethrone the Almighty Car. Who would have imagined that the Almighty Car is already in trouble with the very generation that supposedly can’t wait to drive?

Driving is dropping among Americans under 30, reports Advertising Age (hat tip to Atrios) – a phenomenon the publication doesn’t hesitate to pin (blame?) on the digital age:

The internet has wreaked havoc on the music industry, airlines and media, but it just may be doing the same thing to automobiles.

It's a rarely acknowledged transformational shift that's been going on under the noses of marketers for as long as 15 years: The automobile, once a rite of passage for American youth, is becoming less relevant to a growing number of people under 30. And that could have broad implications for marketers in industries far beyond insurance, gasoline and retail.

Ya think?

Citing U.S. Department of Transportation statistics for 2008 and 1978 comparing the percentage of the U.S. population with driver’s licenses, AdAge found that among 16-year-olds, just 31 percent had licenses in 2008 versus 50 percent in ’78; among 17-year-olds, just 49 percent had licenses in ’08 compared to 75 percent in ’78.

Among 18- and 19-year-olds, who are old enough to drive regardless of states’ various age requirements, those comparisons are 68 percent to 86 percent, and 77 percent to 92 percent, respectively.

The notion that the current economic recession is the main reason why younger people are driving less is debunked in the story by William Draves, president of the consulting firm Lern, and author of Nine Shift: “Mr. Draves, however, notes that the shift began well before the recession or the preceding run-up in gas prices.”

The money quotes that confirm New Urbanism’s strength when combined with transit, although the author doesn’t label it as such, are here (emphasis mine):

The real-estate markets most profoundly affected by the bursting housing bubble – such as Las Vegas and other Sunbelt metro areas –are boom towns built around highways with no substantial train transportation. Real-estate markets that have been less affected or quicker to recover include Boston and San Francisco, which have strong urban rail systems. In New Jersey, Connecticut, Boston, Denver and Chicago, housing prices near new or existing train stations have either been among the first to recover or have seen less depreciation during the bursting of the housing bubble.

In fact, Mr. Draves predicts a resurgence of urban living in denser housing surrounding train stations. As a result, suburban shopping malls and big-box stores such as Walmart, Target and club stores that rely on people hauling big purchases away in cars stand to suffer.

Go read the entire story and pass it on. This trend should spur new urbanists to take note of, and appeal to this younger demographic now.


CA High Speed Rail Authority has noticed this, too

UPDATE: Robert Cruickshank picked up on Advertising Age's story, too, and expands upon it with his experiences, at the California High Speed Rail Blog. One pertinent observation, that (again) New Urbanism -- and transit agencies -- should heed is this:

Having a license and a car is still important, but primarily as a means of transportation – getting to school, getting to work. And since that can be achieved by other means, especially if we provide the trains and buses to do it, it correspondingly reduces the desire and need to drive. When gas prices rise again, younger people will desperately seek out alternatives.


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