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Alon Levy

Yes, but demotorization is an older trend than smartphones. The reduction in car travel relative to income goes back to about 1990. The 2000s are just when income growth was slow enough that motorization growth turned negative.

Bradley Wentworth

I doubt technology is what is truly behind declining rates of driving. Urbanization rates and the structure of the urban fabric are probably far more relevant. Make a vibrant, dense downtown and people will move there - without their cars.

Non-techie Talk

The opening credits for the tv show That 70s Show is applicable - "not a thing to do, just talk to you." Where? In a car. The car was a vehicle (pun intended) for getting together with a group of friends.

Today we can do that without a car. We do that with Facebook, and Twitter, and texting, and...and...all on our smartphones.

There is certainly merit in the argument that technology is impacting how much we drive. Of course, it is not the only factor, and may not even be the biggest factor. Plenty of research is available that shows the Baby Boom cohort created more demand than ever before, and since that cohort has moved through its primary consumption years (it's no coincidence that the minivan coincided with the real estate boom, as Baby Boomers had families and bought houses; it's no coincidence spirituality returned to vogue in the 1990s as Boomers hit into their mid-life sense of mortality; it's no coincidence that BearStearns and Lehman Bros folded as the sheer demand of Boomers expired).

What we'd come to understand as "normal" over the last 30 years is no longer normal. There aren't near as many 20-somethings today as there were 40 years ago when the latter Boomers were into their 20s; there isn't as much demand for anything as there was back then.


If the argument (technology communication reduce mobility need) hold true, it should also apply to transit, isn't?


@ Voony
Maybe slightly, but that would be balanced by the ability to use technology on transit. For a driver to use a phone while traveling is considered a danger to other road users.


This may all be true. But I'm also concerned that there's some optimism at play here. We are very slowly still emerging from a mammoth economic disruption. There's an illusion that the economy is back, but that's the stock market, not the economy. The level of total employment has not recovered, and youth are unemployed in far greater proportions. I think lower employment and lower wealth affting most people in the economy is still a factor.


I don't see how showing that adoption of new technologies progresses establishes a causation with decline in driving.


Thomas. Because the degree of intimacy with communications technology is inversely related to age, and young people's experience will, over time, become the dominant experience as they move into the positions of power in the culture.


Thomas and others above have made some good points. The report doesn't actually answer "why americans are driving less". Jarrett, are you sure you’re not reading too much into this report? There are lots of variables involved and technology is only one of them.


It is difficult to quantify the effect of each variable, so we really don't know what's the "main reason." The report, however, points out to many possible reasons and provides plausible argument for them.

Since the fundamental changes described in the report are permanent, it's quite reasonable to conclude that the decline in per capita miles driven will not suddenly reverse and climb back up.

Let's also remember that the recent economic turmoil is not going to just magically go away. It will take quite a few more years to reduce the youth unemployment for example, and that alone will probably reduce the per capita miles driven for a while.

Therefore yes I agree that miles driven can only go down and not up for years from now. However, I don't think there is sufficient evidence that communications technology and social media is "the" major cause.


So sales tax receipts are down in our area, and it's causing transit cutbacks (it is beginning a slight rise again, like VMT). Yet the economy is supposedly back and the unemployment rate is down. Should I conclude that there's been some fundamental change in our societal interest in spending money, perhaps that they're too busy texting and sexting to want to see each other or shop? Or maybe in this case the fact that employment really hasn't bounced back might be more of the cause?

I guess my point is that people jump to conclusions based on short term trends and extend them to their future projections. Time will tell!

Alan Budde

Looking around at my friends and family I would say that there is strong anecdotal evidence that there is a lifestyle shit wrt use of technology. But as others have pointed out there is no way to effectively disentangle that from the current economy. Only time will tell, but as a transit rider I can say that technology has made it immensely easier and more enjoyable over the laste ~5 years or so.


I would expect delivery truck traffic to be up, if this trend is correct (ordering from Amazon, eBay, etc.)


The big factors that you need to control for to reach any conclusion about fundamental changes in travel behavior are the colossal losses of wealth and employment that continue to tamp down economic activity. The economy looks great to people in the stock market or real estate, but even people with jobs feel more constrained than they did in the 20 years of bubbles prior to the collapse. Lots of people have believed for decades that the day would come where all of our transit and TDM and new density ideas would start being transformative - and so there's a great willingness to believe that's what's happening now, but it could lead to the wrong conclusions if not careful. Personally I think there's a lot more wishful thinking than science involved.


Rise in the price of gasoline in real dollars matters also, combined with stagnation in middle class incomes.

One point to remember -- even if VMT falls ten percent, there's still a hell of a lot of driving going on.

Claiming that electronic communications is going to take down travel demand goes back several decades. Nice to see the claim come back. I was once all in, and then went way out. Time to dust off the old research and see what's different now.

Robert Moore

Some analysis on WTPP by Kenworthy on the trends and relation of GDP and VKT. Something's going on, we just don't need to drive to make a buck these days!

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