Throughout the twentieth century, the automobile was an American icon, a symbol of freedom and mobility. It gave people choices they never had before -- new places to travel, new people to visit, and the like.
The digital age has only expanded the number of choices Americans have. No generation has embraced the freedom to choose more than the “millennials” -- those born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s.
Millennials aren’t just insisting on the right to choose where to go -- but how to get there, too. They’re opting for the mode of transport that allows them to accomplish what they want along the way -- whether it’s socializing with friends, being environmentally responsible, or having the freedom to work or play en route.
We should welcome this trend. It improves the environment, saves money, and enhances commuters’ quality of life. Communities will have to accommodate this demand for choice -- or risk losing millennials to places that do.
Americans have been driving less. The average American logged 7.6 percent fewer miles behind the wheel in 2012 than in 2004, when per-capita driving reached an all-time high.
Meanwhile, millennials are increasingly deciding that they can do without a car. In 2000, about one of every five people between the ages of 14 and 34 went without a driver’s license. Ten years later, more than one in four in the same age group did not have a license.
Three-quarters of American 17-year-olds were licensed to drive in 1978. By 2008, it was just 49 percent.
Today, some 70 percent of millennials report regularly utilizing multiple alternatives to the car, including public transportation.
What explains this shift? It starts with millennials’ worldview. More than other generations, they “appear to be more interested in living lives defined by meaning,” according to Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker and Emily Esfahani Smith of the Hoover Institution.