The young are falling out of love with their cars. It's an opportunity we musn't waste

 Young people  not  using cars properly. This will change...

Young people not using cars properly. This will change...

According to the BBC (and statistics from the Commission on Travel Demand), young people are turning away from car usage and ownership:

In the 1990s, 80% of people were driving by 30; now this marker is only reached by 45 years old. Men under 30 are travelling only half the miles their fathers did.

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The Commission says this should lead to a government re-think about travel priorities. It points out that people in general are driving much less than expected:

People are travelling 10% fewer miles than in 2002 and spending 22 hours less travelling each year than a decade ago.

  • There has been a 20% reduction in commuter trips per week since the mid 1990s
  • Growth in car traffic has slowed. In the 1980s, it grew by 50% whereas in the decade to 2016 it grew by 2%

Yet as the BBC report points out, the UK Government has forecast a rise in traffic of between 20% and 60% by 2040, and that collectively drivers will be doing up to 400 billion miles a year. The Commission in Travel Demand is calling this out as a huge over-estimation - which would result in a massive expansion of roads:

It depends on how much you believe the government's traffic forecasts. A spokesman said the planners had registered the changes in travel habits in its three-yearly forecast of future traffic.

But the Commission says the forecast is a huge overestimate that will lead to a boom in controversial road-building. It says the forecasters have not properly taken into account that people generally are driving much less.

The commission's chair, professor Greg Marsden, told the BBC: "We need root and branch reform of traffic forecasting. 

"Forecasts of future demand for future road use are highly debatable because they appear to be based on the sort of traffic growth we saw in the 1990s. We don't have those levels of traffic growth any more."

"Many young people are happy to live their lives without a car - especially in big cities where public transport is good."

If the Commission is right, then - as those non-driving young grow older - it has huge implications for how we design and develop our cities and towns. "Instead of estimating future demand for driving, then building roads to meet the demand", they say, "ministers should be asking how people want to live - then planning transport solutions accordingly."

The obvious implication of that is an investment in public transport, bike-using infrastructure and pedestrian-friendly centres (but acknowledging that more sparsely populated rural areas may need a different mix). 

But the opportunity of this younger generation taking to their cycling legs, and their pedestrian feet, to make their way to education, work and leisure, is too huge to miss. (We've featured quite a few initiatives that plan for this kind of lifestyle on the Daily Alternative - see here, here, and here.)

There is obviously partly an economic factor here - that young adults are living more economically precarious lives than before, and can't afford the usual car costs. So an economic upturn could shift these stats again. But even in that case, we have good news: young people are twice as willing to run an electric car as their parents.

The Commission On Travel Demand have issued a fascinating infographic on traffic demand - download link here, and see below. Their full report is here. 

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