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Try The Magic Bus



Cultural life in America, post World War II, revolved around the private ownership of an automobile.  In the land of Leave it to Beaver, Americans thought they had it made—if they could see the USA in one of the Chevrolets touted on TV by Dinah Shore.  The craving for travelling on the open road aroused by car ownership helped pave the way for the construction of the Interstate Highway System; the exodus out of America’s overcrowded cities; and, the sprawling development of the suburbs.  Until recently, cars were both the spark and the symbol of American supremacy.

Cars remain the predominant mode of personal transportation favored throughout the 50 states; but a growing body of research reveals America’s love affair with the auto is cooling down.

According to a new report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation last year—the highest annual public transit ridership number in 57 years—surpassing even 2008 when gas prices rose to $4 to $5 a gallon.  Since 1995, ridership on public transit is up 37.2 percent—outpacing population growth by 17 percentage points.  For a comprehensive breakdown of the APTA report, read this article in the Sustainable Cities Collective by David Thorpe.  For additional insight into how a permanent shift in American behavior is hastening the demise of America’s car culture, read Elizabeth Rosenthal’s reporting in the New York Times.   More statistics on the downward trend in America’s driving habits are provided here from Think Progress.

A study released last year from U.S. PIRG shows the number of vehicle miles traveled decreased over the past eight years and these statistics, combined with the APTA report's findings, have convinced transportation experts that the growing preference for taking a train, boarding a bus or riding a bike can no longer be attributed solely to the economic fallout from the Great Recession.  

Armed with this data, analysts are linking Americans’ change in behavior not to a single factor but attaching it to a conglomeration of factors—involving everything—from demographics to car-sharing; from urban shift to telecommunications; from state and federal investments in more green infrastructure and, almost, as an afterthought, to economics.  The folks, who make their living tracking these numbers, believe the decline in America’s reliance on cars is here to stay and growing; and Millennials, adults 18 to 33, are identified as the group largely responsible for advancing America’s burgeoning anti-car bias.   

In Pew’s new survey, Millennials are categorized as the first identifiable group in the modern era having lower levels of wealth and personal income than their parents; they also drive about 20 percent less than their parents did at the same age even though, as a group, only 32 percent of Millennials identify themselves as environmentalists.  Larry Copeland describes Millennials as "multimodal” because they’re not tethered to a single mode of transportation.  Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann, the boys from The Atlantic, explain, for many Millennials, the decision not to own or drive a car is deliberate and has less to do with cost and more to do with choices related to personal lifestyle.  In Zipcar’s fourth annual Millennials’ Survey, 40 percent of Millennials confessed that losing a mobile phone would impose a greater hardship than losing a car.  For a perceptive analysis of what makes this group of adults 18 to 33 tick, read this essay by Emily Badger.

10.7 billion public transit trips in 2013 make it easier to argue that the U.S. has achieved ‘peak car’ and the decline in American car ownership and the rise in Americans’ use of public transportation is permanent.  However, Ben Adler remains unimpressed by the APTA findings—calling attention to the fact that the population in 2013 is almost 2X the population in 1956 and the slight uptick in overall mass transportation usage contained in the APTA data still means the average person today is using half as much mass transportation as the average person in 1956.

Still, in light of President Obama’s ambitious goal to curb greenhouse gas emissions, progress is progress and a little progress is better than no progress at all.  Passenger cars and light trucks account for the lion’s share of U.S. transportation emissions and, collectively, produce almost one-fifth of the nation’s total global warming pollution.  Fewer cars on the road vastly improves the President’s chances of achieving his target of cutting carbon pollution in the United States by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 while improving the general public’s ability to breathe clean air.

Because every gallon of gas burned emits 24 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and more than 19 pounds per gallon comes right out of a car’s tailpipe, swapping the driver’s seat and the reflections in the rearview mirror for a seat on a bus or a ride on a train is a very big deal.  Dinah Shore?  If you’re at a loss for a song to hum along with while you see the USA, try the Magic Bus.

On Thursday, March 27th, Next Generation is co-hosting a panel discussion on the economic potential of developing California’s Monterey Shale formation. The event will take place in the Quorum Room at the Citizen Hotel in Sacramento starting at 2:00 PM.  The event is open to the public and registration is free.  Space, however, is limited.  RSVP at


"Californians are increasingly choosing alternatives to driving a car for work and play. That's a shift with real benefits for public health that also cuts greenhouse gases and smog-forming pollution.” Chairman of the California Air Resources Board Mary Nichols responding to data contained in the California Household Travel Survey showing Californians’ choice of transportation options have doubled since 2000. 

“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities.  People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services and communities are benefiting with strong economic growth.” APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy

“A lot of people would prefer to drive less and rely more on walking, cycling and public transit, provided that those are high-quality options.”  Todd Litman, a transportation analyst, reacting to new data showing the use of public transit in the U.S. has reached the highest level since 1956.

"It's amazing to think about, that this is Houston.  This is not Portland, Oregon. This is not Seattle."  Houston Metro Transit Authority spokeswoman Margaret O'Brien-Molina reacting to the 2.76 percent increase in the use of public transportation in Houston in 2013, among the largest increases in the nation. 


History of the Interstate Highway System.  U.S. Department of Transportation-Federal Highway Administration. 

The Growth of Suburbs.  The Politics and Culture of Abundance. 

The End of the Suburbs.  Leigh Gallagher.  TIME.  July 31, 2014. 

Has motorization in the U.S. Peaked?  Michael Sivak.  University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. 

Crash: The Decline of U.S. Driving in 6 Charts.  Jordan Weissmann.  The Atlantic.  November 15, 2013. 

PRESS RELEASE: Record 10.7 Billion Trips Taken On U.S. Public Transportation In 2013.  American Public Transportation.  Association.  March 10, 2014. 

Use of Public Transit in U.S. Reaches Highest Level Since 1956, Advocates Report.  Jon Hurdle.  New York Times.  March 10, 2014. 

Public Transit Use in American Cities Sees Highest Increase in 57 Years.  David Thrope.  Sustainable Cities Collective.  March 11, 2014.

The End of Car Culture.  Elizabeth Rosenthal.  New York Times.  June 29, 2013. 

Will 2013 Continue the 7-Year Downward Trend In American Driving?  Justin Horner.  Think Progress-NRDC Switchboard.  January 13, 2013. 

REPORT: A NEW DIRECTION: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future.  U.S. PIRG.  May 14, 2013. 

Americans Took A Record 10.7 Billion Public Transit Trips In 2013. March 10, 2014. 

A Very Brief History of Why Americans Hate Their Commutes.  Martin Wachs.  The Atlantic Cities.  February 19, 2104. 

A Cooling of Americans' Love Affair With Cars.  Justin LaHart. Wall Street Journal.  January 22, 2014. 

Car-Sharing, Social Trends Portend Challenge for Auto Sales. Neil Boudette.  Wall Street Journal.  February 3, 2014. 

The End of the Suburbs.  Leigh Gallagher.  TIME.  July 31, 2013. 

Young people driving less, embrace other transportation.  Larry Copeland.  USA Today.  October 1, 2013.


America's Weird, Enduring Love Affair With Cars and Houses.  Derek Thompson.  The Atlantic.  February 25, 2014. 

The Love Affair Is Over.  Micheline Maynard.  The Columbia Journalism Review.  November 1, 2013. 

Millennials in Adulthood.  Pew Social Trends.  March 5, 2014. 

Millennials Lead the Trend to Less Driving, But What Happens As They Get Older?  Emily Badger.  The Atlantic Cities.  May 14, 2013. 

Millennials in Adulthood.  Pew Social Trends.  March 5, 2014. 

Young people driving less, embrace other transportation.  Larry Copeland.  USA Today.  October 1, 2013.

The Cheapest Generation.  Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann.  The Atlantic.  August 22, 2012. 

The ZIPCAR 2013 Millennial Survey.  Millennials Weigh In on the American Dream.  January 24, 2014. 

Millennials in 2014: Take My Car, Not My Phone.  Micheline Maynard.  Forbes.  January 24, 2014. 

Yet More Evidence of Peak Car.  Emily Badger.  The Atlantic Cities.  July 23, 2013. 

Mass transit ridership grows from pathetically low to just low.  Ben Adler.  GRIST.  March 10, 2014. 

President Obama’s ‘Climate Action Plan.’  The New York Times.  June 25, 2013. 

60 percent of U.S. transportation emissions come from cars and light trucks.  Union of Concerned Scientists.  January 31, 2014. 

Fact Sheet: 2014 U.S. Climate Action Report. U.S. Department of State. 

Asthma and Air Pollution. NRDC. January 28, 2014. 

Public Transit Use In U.S. Is At a 57-Year High, Report Finds. Katie Valentine.  Think Progress.  March 10, 2014.

1 gallon of gas = 24 pounds of global warming emissions. Union of Concerned Scientists.  January 31, 2014. 


ANNUAL VEHICLE MILAGE RATE 1985-2011. Source: Michael Sivak, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, published in The Atlantic, July 23, 2013.  

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