Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Why Young People Don't Like To Drive -- And What That Costs You

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Urban theorist Richard Florida has an article in The Atlantic about a trend Your Ward Room Blogger has noticed for years: young people don’t like to drive.

    In the last decade, the number of miles driven annually by 16- to 34-year-olds has decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900. The percentage of young people without a driver’s license has increased from 21 to 26. During the same period, they’ve doubled their use of public transit and bicycles.

    Part of the reason, Florida says, is financial. It costs $8,700 a year to maintain an automobile, and young people don’t earn as much money as their parents did. But it’s also cultural: young people see cars as a waste of resources, and a waste of time they could be spending on their iPads and cell phones while riding the bus.

    The shift away from the car is part and parcel of a new way of life being embraced by young Americans, which places less emphasis on big cars or big houses as status symbols or life's essentials. In my book The Great Reset, I called it the New Normal. “Whether it’s because they don’t want them, can’t afford them, or see them as a symbol of waste and environmental abuse,” I wrote, “more and more people are ditching their cars and taking public transit or moving to more walkable neighborhoods where they can get by without them or by occasionally using a rental car or Zipcar.”

    Is this good for society? Probably. But it’s bad for the auto industry. It’s also bad for those of us who own cars, because we still have to pay to maintain the road network, which is not going to shrink just because fewer people are driving on it. Even if you don’t own a car, you still expect a paved street in front of your house. Typically, gasoline taxes, tolls and vehicle fees pay for road maintenance.

    If fewer drivers are paying these, the remaining drivers will have to pay more. That may explain why the Illinois Tollway raised its fares this year, why annual car tags cost $99, and why the city is installing speed enforcement cameras.

    Of course, these added expenses may discourage more people from driving, and eventually make an automobile a luxury item. At least the remaining motorists will have less traffic to deal with.

    Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!