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Report: Driving Boom Is Over

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A new report from the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group highlighting the decline in the average number of miles driven by the average American is supporting the call for investments in public education in the commonwealth.

The report released by the MASSPIRG Education Fund titled “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future” says that on average, the amount of miles driven by Americans has been on the decline for the past eight years.

According to the study Americans spend an average of 1.17 hours traveling per day, which is slightly less than the average time spent in 2005.  

Kirstie Pecci, an attorney with MASSPIRG, said that a generational shift will have an impact on the amount of time the average American spends behind the wheel

"The Millenial generation has made choices not to get their licenses as many times, not to own cars, to live places where they're not going to have to own an automobile, and the Baby Boomers are now moving out of the driving phase of their lives," said Pecci.

According to the report, the driving boom of the 20th Century was supported by low prices of fossil fuels, women entering the workforce, and rapid suburbanization. With the economic recession and changing attitudes among drivers, that trend now seems to be reversing.

The report says that young people aged 16 to 34 drove 23 percent less on average in 2009 compared with 2001.

The report also adds that total vehicle travel peaked among Americans in 2007, and that today Americans are driving as much as they did in 2004.

Kirstie Pecci said that if a shift in transportation investment is not made from highway expansion to improved public transportation, in the long run, it could have a negative effect on communities.

"It's possible that what could happen that some communities would not be as populated because they would not be liveable for folks who don't have cars," said Pecci.

But even before then, Pecci said that communities with a lack of public transportation are suffering.

"Populations that are underserved from public transportation like Pittsfield are already hurting," said Pecci.

Gary Shepard, administrator of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority said that ridership among customers has increased over the years, due to spikes in gas prices and the economic recession.

Shepard said that there’s a strengthened demand in Berkshire County among riders seeking service to educational facilities.

"We've found more and more riders are using public transit to go back and forth...to community colleges to further their education," said Shepard.

Nat Karns, Executive Director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, also said that demand for public transportation will increase in the future.

But Karns also said he’s noticed a different trend. Karns said that the BPRC has been studying the amount of traffic coming off Exit 2 of the Massachusetts Turnpike in Lee. While there’s been a decline in recent years in the amount of personal vehicle traffic, there’s been an increased presence of another kind of vehicle.

"The total vehicle traffic had actually declined. The amount of truck traffic throughout and after the recession continued to climb," said Karns.

And that has an impact on the kind of planning regional cities and towns are considering.

"If we have road issues it's because of truck impacts," said Karns.

And as the debate over a transportation budget continues in Boston between Governor Deval Patrick and state legislators, Kirstie Pecci said that she hopes lawmakers will consider the benefits of making critical investments in public transportation across the state.

"Public transportation is going to allow for opportunities in education, employment, and generally better and more healthy communities," said Pecci.

For more information: http://www.masspirg.org/news/map/new-report-reduction-driving-likely-continue

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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