Understanding Changes in Youth Mobility

Published in: National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) 08-36, Task 132, February 2017 [online]

Posted on RAND.org on March 31, 2017

by Charlene Rohr, Matthew Coogan, Rachel Weinberger

This Executive Summary presents the highlights from a two-year project undertaken within the National Cooperative Highway Research Program to help transportation planners and managers understand the implications of profound changes in the nature of travel demand patterns in the United States, and in other western countries. A seemingly unchangeable pattern of auto travel growth was broken in the first decade of the new century, as shown for the United States in Figure 1. All over the western world, separate researchers reported similar results in the first decade of this century, in which the amount of auto travel taken by the younger generation decreased at a rate faster than for other groups. 2 At one level, this discovery unleashed an exceptional body of literature from many countries that helps the transportation practitioner understand a global phenomenon. At a different level, many elements of the popular press engaged in speculation about the attitudes and behaviors of the Millennial Generation, based on little or no actual fact. For the transportation planner, this may seem like a small, and perhaps irrelevant issue - or not! When the public believes that Millennials no longer drive in cars, no longer buy cars, and only wish to share cars, this implies that auto travel might suddenly grow out of favor. When the public believes that Millennials do not want to live in the suburbs, and would not drive further to get a larger house, this implies that travel forecasts used in the planning and environmental analyses of new transportation investments are all wrong, and thus invalid. The research project presents a neutral review of what exactly did happen in these two decades of change in travel behavior, and analyzes how much of this change is attributable to knowable, traditionally documented factors. This, then, builds the case for exploring how attitudinal and cultural changes might explain the rest of the change in travel behavior.

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