Economy pushing young to go carless

Janet Moore
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Minneapolis – — Consider Jake Gau a multimodal millennial.

On chillier mornings, the 25-year-old rehabilitation aide hops on the No. 30 bus in northeast Minneapolis bound for his job at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Golden Valley. On warmer days, he pedals his mountain bike westward to work.

Noticeably missing from his array of transportation options: a car. And that's just fine with him.

Much of the millennial generation — roughly 77 million Americans born between 1983 and 2000 — is decidedly lukewarm when it comes to Americans' century-long love affair with the automobile. They appear to prefer biking, walking, taking mass transit and sharing cars, exhibiting behavior that could have a profound effect on transportation and land-use policies for years to come.

"Transportation policy tends to be a generation behind, we're still trying to build our grandfather's interstate highway system," said Phineas Baxandall, a senior analyst with the consumer group U.S. PIRG. Policymakers should not only accommodate Gen Y's desire to drive less, but encourage it, he said.

"We've spent a number of years talking about millennials and how they have different sensibilities when it comes to transportation," said Minnesota state Sen. Scott Dibble, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. "Now we have to respond with policy."

Entering adulthood during the most recent recession, many millennials are too debt-laden and underemployed to afford a car. They see mass transit, biking and walking as not only cheaper, but also good for their health and the environment.

Gau, for example, often walks several miles in the final leg of his commute. Whippet-thin, he says it's "a great workout. I'm calmer; it's a great way to start and end my day." Whether he's part of the mittened masses on the bus or pedaling solo, he observes commuters alone in their cars.

"They seem really stressed out," he said.

In the past decade, more and more young people have chosen to drive less — in stark contrast to the Gen X and baby boomer generations, where a driver's license was the ticket to adulthood and freedom from their parents.

"People are more connected now, it's easier to reach out to your friends," said Lacey Plache, chief economist for the auto website