Millennials are driving less and for shorter amounts of time than any generation since the postwar years, reversing a sixty year trend.
This generation sees cars more as a means of transportation, and less a symbol of status.
Perhaps most importantly, Millennials are looking for alternatives to cars, be it public transportation or bicycles, or even walking. This has been an ongoing process throughout the past decade, but the most recent report is significant because it signifies that the trend will continue even as the economy improves.
This is indeed momentous news. For many years, perhaps since the 1950s, perhaps even earlier to the roaring 1920s, American notions of status, identity and freedom have been tied to the automobile. In Detroit, the empires of men with names like Ford and Mott rose on these notions.
Countless artifacts of American popular culture of the past sixty years, be them books or movies or songs, have left a shared vision in the consciousness of the people regarding the myth of the automobile and of the open road, of the enduring romance of the rolling blacktop winding its way through a desert night or along some coastal road.
What to make then, of the recent poll data that suggests that Millennials — the generation born from 1983 to 2000 — are ditching cars in record numbers? Is this the end of Car Culture as we know it? Is the imminent collapse of American Civilization Nigh?
The answer is, of course, no. There was a time, before cars assumed such an important position of status, when a great many of Americans rode bicycles or took public transportation to get to where they were going.
What Millennials are saying about cars and the place that they occupy in their lives would seemingly hearken back to a lifestyle not totally unlike that pre-automobile era. Also like our ancestors, the technological revolution that is currently sweeping the nation means that a new era of mass transit has the potential to ensure efficiency and comfort, much like the advent and perfection of transcontinental railways in the years following the Civil War.
So the future of transportation may actually look a lot like the past here in America, and America’s transportation options will look a lot more like other industrialized countries, from Japan to Great Britain — a place where cars are used, but other options have been given the proper developmental and financial planning to be viable.
Make no mistake, cars are hardly the worst thing ever invented. They are practical, convenient, and safer than they ever have been before.
The abandonment of the car for other, perhaps cleaner alternatives, and the recurring fact that Millennials keep saying that they want something new, means that the time has never been more opportune than now for big changes to the transportation landscape of the U.S. So hop in, buckle up and give it a spin.
Collegian Columnist Jesse Carey can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter by @junotbend.