Is it possible we are seeing the end of the automobile as a popular mode of transportation? Will we see more self-driving cars instead of SUVs, more bicycle parking racks than parking garages and more people on buses than in BMWs?
Look around. Put your ear to the ground. What do you hear? It’s not car tires. It’s the sound of bicycle tires, light rail and footsteps walking to the curb waiting for an Uber.
This car-less preference is definitely taking place now in cities. There’s been a flurry of articles or newscasts recently about Copenhagen or Amsterdam and how those cities have replaced the car with the bicycle. Other cities around the world are taking notice.
They had to. Metropolitan areas are choked with too many cars. Commuters are sick of all the congestion. Residents are sick of the pollution.
To put a twist on an old Yogi Berra saying, “People aren’t driving there anymore. There’s too much traffic.”
Many are opting to pedal instead. According to the American League of Bicyclists, from 2000 to 2013, the number of people bicycling to work has increased by 62%.
In bike-friendly cities, that amount rose by a whopping 105%.
Millennials prefer bikes and bicycle parking racks
But here’s the real trend that will mean a sea-change in America when it comes to automobiles. It all has to do with Millennials, the iPhone generation, the next generation to take the reins.
Driving by young people dropped 23% between 2001 and 2009. From 2007 to 2011, the age group most likely to buy a car was not newcomers to the work force, but people in the 55 to 64-age group.
According to a University of Michigan study, in 2010 only 69.5% of 19-year-olds in the US had a driver’s license compared to 87.3% in 1983.
What happened? Getting your driver’s license used to be a rite of passage. Now, not so much. That milestone has been replaced by one’s purchase of the newest iPhone or smartphone.
Young people are more interested in technology than they are in automobiles. They’ve see the long commutes their parents drive, they see the escalating cost of buying and maintaining a car, they see how hard it is to find a parking space.
“Meh,” they might think. “I’ll hop on an Uber instead.”
Or, if there is an adequate bicycle infrastructure with bike lanes and bicycle parking racks, “I’ll just ride my bike there.
That’s because there’s an attitudinal shift with young people today regarding transportation. They just want to go from A to B and they don’t particularly care if they do it in a $40,000 Lexus or someone else’s $25,000 Prius.
In 15 years the market for self-driving cars is expected to hit $87 billion. It’s not just Google looking at this technology; all the big automakers are jumping on board. They have to.
Another trend that is monumental is the Millennials shift to the cities instead of the suburbs. In the cities, you don’t need a car at all.
Last year Americans took 10.7 billion trips on mass transit modes of transportation such as trains and buses, up 37% since 1995.
Stung by the Great Recession, Millennials are moving to the cities because that’s where the jobs are. Once there (and paying skyrocketing rents), they will forego the idea of a car. A bicycle is more appealing – healthier, quicker and creates less pollution.
And a big plus, it’s cheaper – there’s no car insurance, expensive gas, costly maintenance, exorbitant parking fees or rising tolls.
Finally, consider this: an automobile is a very wasteful investment; it’s a huge metal appliance that sits idle for most of the day and night. Fills up an entire space in a garage.
If anything, the younger plugged-in generation is all about efficiency. Why write a letter when you can email? Why call when you can text? Why contact a friend when you can tell all your friends what you are up to all at once on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Why own a car, when you can bike or hop on a train?
People in bike-centric cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam not only own bicycles because they like to ride. They own them because it is the quickest and cheapest way to get around.
Americans had a big love affair with automobiles. But we’ve peaked. The next century will be a period of mass transit, bicycle parking racks, bike lanes, bike sharing, car-sharing and driverless cars. People prefer to spend less time driving and more time doing something else. The world is changing to meet that demand.