Monday, April 9, 2012

If you don't want to drive you've got to be driven

Last week the California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) put out a news release: New report: Long-term drop in how much people drive, youth desire more transportation options. From the news release, with a link to the report itself:
A new report released today by the CalPIRG Education Fund with Frontier Group demonstrates that Americans have been driving less since the middle of last decade. The report, Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less and What it Means for Transportation Policy shows that young people in particular are decreasing the amount they drive and increasing their use of transportation alternatives.

Over the last seven years, the report reveals, and for the first time since the Second World War, Americans are driving less: 6% less in 2011 than in 2004.

This cheers me up. Reduction in human dependency on industrially manufactured and supplied energy is good reason for good cheer.

But there's more! The reduction in driving could be a real, lasting trend. This from the report itself:
The trend away from driving has been led by young people. From 2001 and 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita – a drop of 23 percent. The trend away from steady growth in driving is likely to be long-lasting – even once the economy recovers. Young people are driving less for a host of reasons – higher gas prices, new licensing laws, improvements in technology that support alternative transportation, and changes in Generation Y’s values and preferences – all factors that are likely to have an impact for years to come.
Is it just the economy? Apparently not:
The recession has played a role in reducing the miles driven in America, especially by young people. People who are unemployed or underemployed have difficulty affording cars, commute to work less frequently if at all, and have less disposable income to spend on traveling for vacation and other entertainment. The trend toward reduced driving, however, has occurred even among young people who are employed and/or are doing well financially.
  • The average young person (age 16-34) with a job drove 10,700 miles in 2009, compared with 12,800 miles in 2001.
  • From 2001 to 2009, young people (16-34 years old) who lived in households with annual incomes of over $70,000 increased their use of public transit by 100 percent, biking by 122 percent, and walking by 37 percent.
Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, published a blog post on the same date the CalPIRG report quoted above was released.

(As it happens, I -- not a young person by the CalPIRG report's definition or my own -- passed Prof. Reich a couple days earlier, riding my bike down a hill between UC Berkeley's main library and my office off the northwest corner of campus. I had just borrowed a copy of John Logan's script Red, from which I quoted in my last blog post, Mark Rothko on art and oedipal struggle. But now this is turning into a shaggy dog story ... back to Reich's blog.)

Professor Reich called his post of last Thursday The Fable of the Century. Here's how the fable begins:
Imagine a country in which the very richest people get all the economic gains. They eventually accumulate so much of the nation’s total income and wealth that the middle class no longer has the purchasing power to keep the economy going full speed. Most of the middle class’s wages keep falling and their major asset – their home – keeps shrinking in value.

Imagine that the richest people in this country use some of their vast wealth to routinely bribe politicians. They get the politicians to cut their taxes so low there’s no money to finance important public investments that the middle class depends on – such as schools and roads, or safety nets such as health care for the elderly and poor.
Can you imagine that? I thought you could, it's not so hard.

Reich goes on in this vein for some paragraphs, building to a description of a certain very wealthy, nearly-nominated aspirant to presidential office and how -- in one ending to the fable -- this fellow gets elected and cements the gains of his fellow gazillionaires by further putting the screws to middle- and working-class people.

However. As Reich puts it, there’s another ending to the fable.
In this one, the candidacy of the private equity manager (and all the money he and his friends use to try to sell their lies) has the opposite effect. It awakens the citizens of the country to what is happening to their economy and their democracy. It ignites a movement among the citizens to take it all back.

The citizens repudiate the private equity manager and everything he stands for, and the party that nominated him. And they begin to recreate an economy that works for everyone and a democracy that’s responsive to everyone.

It's just a fable, Reich wrote. But the ending is up to you.

What connects these two threads for me -- CalPIRG's transportation report and Reich's fable -- is the question whether enough of those who are voting with their feet, derailleurs, and bus passes are aware of and invested in the long-term implications of their part in shaping political leadership and policy ... that is, whether they are committed to vote at the polls, then follow up to influence elected leaders.

We know the people with scads of money are on that task like vultures on carrion. But the rest of us?

CalPIRG issued their report on shifts in preferred modes of transportation as a call to policymakers:
America has long created transportation policy under the assumption that driving will continue to increase at a rapid and steady rate. The changing transportation preferences of young people – and Americans overall – throw that assumption into doubt. Policy-makers and the public need to be aware that America’s current transportation policy – dominated by road building – is fundamentally out-of-step with the transportation patterns and expressed preferences of growing numbers of Americans. It is time for policy-makers to consider the implication of changes in driving habits for the nation’s transportation infrastructure decisions and funding practices, and consider a new vision for transportation policy that reflects the needs of 21st century America.
The ending of the fable, as Robert Reich characterizes it, will depend how many of the young people who would rather take public transportation or bike or walk than drive a car take part in getting the ending right.

Here's hoping......

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Mark Rothko on art and oedipal struggle
Sharrows and stripes: bike lanes for a common good
Paying what things cost
Facing things we'd rather weren't so

Thanks to Rachel Kramer for the image of Robert Reich at a Brandeis University book-signing, circa 2004.

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