Arizona’s youngest adults are leading a new wave of people who are ditching their cars and riding public transit.
That’s the conclusion of a study conducted by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, which says millennials, or those between ages 18-34, are more likely to use public transportation and walk or bike to their destination.
As a result, cities need to revise transportation plans to reflect these changes and provide more diverse transportation options.
Representatives from Arizona PIRG Education Fund and St. Luke’s, along with Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, presented the report to some local media last week, a couple of days before the launch of Tucson’s modern streetcar.
According to the study, titled “Bikes, Trains and Less Driving,” there was a 24.6 percent increase in public transportation trips and a 31 percent increase in per-person passenger miles traveled on public transportation in Tucson between 2005 and 2010.
Statewide, there was a 10.5 percent decline in annual vehicle miles traveled per capita between 2005 and 2012, while the number of registered vehicles dropped more than 4 percent.
There was also an increase in people who worked from home, with more than 5 percent of people telecommuting in 2012, compared to 4 percent in 2005.
Although millennials are mostly responsible for the shift in transportation habits, the study says public transit is not just for the young.
Senior citizens who either feel burdened by keeping a car or can no longer drive for safety reasons can also benefit from public transportation, as well as those with disabilities.
The change in commuting habits was not strictly due to the recession, especially since the study began before the economic decline and continued after the recovery began, officials said.
“Arizona is experiencing a shift in how people want to get around,” said Diane Brown, executive director of Arizona PIRG.
The study recommends several statewide and local changes, such as revising transportation plans to reflect declines in driving, reallocating resources to expand transportation options and encouraging transit agencies to promote the use of car-sharing, bike-sharing and travel apps for smartphones.
The new trends will likely influence future transportation planning, as well as how local property and sales taxes are reallocated.
In addition, local officials are ready to discuss the extension of the Regional Transportation Authority half-cent sales tax, which is set to expire in 2026.
“You may have to see more property tax allocated to road maintenance, more sales tax allocated, as a dedicated funding source, to transit services because that’s what our community wants,” Rothschild said. “We’re going to have to take those trends and reorganize where to allocate those scarce resources.”
Tucson has already made strides throughout the years with the creation of bike boulevards, the Pima County Loop, expanded bus service and the modern streetcar.
But future transportation plans could place even more of an emphasis on those modes of transportation.