Decline in driving, increase in public transit in Arizona

Diane Brown

Diane Brown

In a recent report, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund documents that between 2006 and 2013 Arizona saw an 11.8 percent decline in annual vehicle miles traveled per capita and Arizonans increasingly look to public transportation to get around.

While some might assume that driving will rebound as the economy improves, many factors show that the shift away from driving and to other modes of transportation is a trend that is likely to be long-lasting. Consider the following:

  • The trend away from driving is led by the Millennial generation. In 2013, 23 percent of Arizonans were young people aged 18-34. Young people are more likely than the rest of the population to use public transportation and walk or bike to their destination.
  • Arizona’s population skews slightly older than the national average. Public transportation offers a good alternative for seniors who may feel that managing a car is too burdensome or for those who can no longer safely operate a vehicle.
  • 12.3 percent of Arizonans have a disability that may restrict their driving abilities. Most Arizona public transit systems offer paratransit service, which is specialized, door-to-door transportation service for people with disabilities or seniors who are not able to ride fixed-route public transportation.
  • Fewer Arizonans are making a regular commute to and from to work. In 2013, 5.5 percent of Arizonans worked from home, compared to 4.0 percent in 2005.

As personal vehicle travel has decreased, the number of trips and the number of miles traveled by public transportation has increased in Arizona. In the Phoenix metro area, the light rail is already experiencing ridership numbers that weren’t projected to be reached until the year 2020. The Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public

Transportation Authority has seen ridership grow from under 200,000 in 2001 to more than 1.8 million in 2013. And in Yuma, ridership on Yuma County Area Transit has doubled since 2005.

Moving forward, planners and public officials need to incorporate current transportation trends in their decisions. The following would be a great way to start:

Revisit transportation plans. Officials at all levels should revisit transportation plans to ensure they reflect recent declines in driving and new understandings of the future demand for travel.

Reallocate resources. With driving stagnating and demand for transit, bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure increasing, officials should reallocate resources toward system repair and expand the range of transportation options available.

Remove barriers to non-driving transportation options. Officials should remove barriers such as planning and zoning laws and ensure access to funding for non-driving forms of transportation.

Use innovative travel tools and services. Transportation agencies should encourage the use of bikesharing, carsharing, and ridesharing and provide real-time travel information for public transit via smartphone.

Editor’s note: Ms. Brown is the executive director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund.

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