The Mystery Behind America’s Decline in Driving

Read the full story in Governing.

There’s been no shortage of media reporting on the ongoing decline in driving in the United States. Since 2004, Americans have been decreasing their per-capita miles driven every year.

What’s less clear is why it’s happening. A new report shows just how little we understand the trend.

In some circles, skeptics have balked at the dip, arguing it’s merely an effect of the sluggish economy. Owning a car and paying for gas isn’t cheap, so it’s logical to assume when times are tough, people would cut back on automobile trips.

“Among the potential causes, certainly the most important is the economic situation, with steeply declining household incomes and the worst economic situation since the 1930s,” Wendell Cox wrote in a blog reflecting that line of the thinking.

Researchers at U.S. PIRG, trying to figure out if that was true, came up with something of an experiment: If the sagging economy was the reason Americans are driving less, then theoretically, the states hit the hardest by the recession would see the biggest declines in ridership.

That didn’t happen.

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