I have written in the past that we are using fewer and fewer gallons of gas every year. Why? Well, I have told you that the main reason is the price of gas – the higher the price, the fewer gallons of gas we use. Add to that improving fuel economy, alternative fuel vehicles, and the sluggish economy, and you have an equation that explains why we are using fewer gallons of gas. Agree? Well, maybe not so fast.
Recently, a study entitled, “Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less,” identifies these causes, but cites additional reasons why we may continue to use fewer gallons of gas in the future. According to the study, the following are reasons for the decline in gasoline sales:
- Huge rise in those "not in labor force"
- Boomer retirement
- Chronic long-term unemployment
- Changing social trends in younger generations
- Declining real wages leave consumers with less discretionary spending cash
- High price of gasoline
- Increase in online shopping means fewer trips
- Improved fuel rates and cash-for-clunkers
The most important reason I have not cited from this group is the impact of young drivers.
The study cites that from 2001 and 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by 16 to 34-year-olds decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita – a drop of 23 percent. Why are younger people driving less? Well, because of higher gas prices, new licensing laws, improvements in technology that support alternative transportation, and changes in their values and preferences.
Many younger people also would rather live places where they have convenient options to the car, according to the study. We have heard this over and over here in Southeast Michigan and you can see communities placing greater emphasis on constructing more walkable and bikeable places in an attempt to be more attractive to younger adults.
All of this information suggests that gas consumption will continue to decline for years to come. This is a good thing, but what are the implications of this and how can we prepare? One obvious huge implication of this trend relates to funding. Fewer gallons of gas sold equates to fewer dollars to make road and transit improvements. On the other hand, it also means that our air will be cleaner.
I remember I couldn’t wait to get a car when I was 16. Now I know kids that don’t even want to get their driver’s license until they are in college, or after college. It is a new world and to be prepared, we need to be looking at trends like these and trying to understand what they mean. What was it someone said, “The only thing constant is change.” Think they got that one right!
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