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The Decline of Driving: Navigating Vermont Without a Car

Posted by Content Coordinator on Monday, February 1st, 2016


Executive Summary

The Decline of DrivingFrom the end of World War II until 2004, the number of miles the average American drove an automobile annually increased. But beginning in 2005, Americans reversed this trend and began reducing the number of miles they spend behind the wheel.

According to the State Smart Transportation Initiative, a transportation research organization based at the University of Wisconsin, vehicle miles traveled per person in the U.S. has dropped every year since. By 2013, the last year for which the Transportation Board could find statistics, the average American drove more than 6 percent fewer miles per year than in 2005.

This trend not only holds true in Vermont, but locals appear to be leading the charge. In 2007, Vermonters drove an annual average of 12,400 miles. But in 2013, Vermonters, according to VTrans, drove an average of just 11,356 miles, which is an 8.4 percent drop.

As Americans drive less, their use of alternative transportation modes such as riding a bus, taking a train or using a bicycle have increased.

Americans in 2013, according to the American Public Transportation Association, logged 10.7 billion transit trips, an amount not seen since 1956. Biking is also on the rise. According to a 2012 Commuter Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 860,000 Americans commuted to work by bicycle more than half the year, a 9 percent increase over the year before. All told, bicycle commuting increased 61 percent between 2000 and 2012.

Vermont does not keep cycling commuter data, but it does track train and bus use. Both are on the rise.

According to VTrans, Vermont transit providers logged 4.6 million riders in 2011. That figure grew to 4.84 million in 2014 even though the state’s largest transit provider, the Chittenden County Transit Authority, shut down for several weeks due to a driver strike. Had there been no strike, VTrans estimates ridership would have grown to nearly 5 million, which would represent an 8.7 percent increase over the past four years.

Vermont also is served by two intercity Amtrak train routes that have nearly doubled in ridership during the 10-year stretch between 2005 and 2014, increasing from 57,121 passengers annually to 107,688. Amtrak’s Vermonter service during this time experienced a sizable uptick in intrastate trips, which have increased from 3 percent of its total ridership in 2004 to 12 percent in 2013.

The Transportation Board became interested in these trends last year after it learned that nationwide young people are primarily responsible for these changes. The Board then analyzed national transportation statistics associated with the so-called Millennial Generation (people ages 18-34), and in 2014 held a series of forums that attracted young Vermonters with the goal of understanding whether they conformed to or bucked these national behaviors.

The Board not only discovered that young Vermonters conformed to these trends, but also learned that they are deeply troubled that the Green Mountain State does not offer enough in the way of alternative transportation to retain them as residents. Vermont millennials warned that Vermont’s lack of transportation options also acts as a deterrent to attracting their peers who grew up elsewhere.

The Board published its findings in a report titled “Getting Millennials from A to B,” which can be found at the Board’s website at

Realizing that millennials make up only a part of the population, the Board in 2015 set out to understand how older generations view the state of Vermont’s alternative transportation options. To do this, the Board held six public forums specifically designed to attract Vermonters 35 years and older. The forums were held in various geographic locations around the state so that the Board could look for trends that transcend specific local communities or state regions.

To attract people to the forums, the Board worked with a verity of local organizations – chambers of commerce, economic development corporations, social service agencies, arts councils, regional planning commissions, and front porch forums – in each community to spread the word.

Forum participants included a mix of business owners, town officials, social service providers, members of the general public, and, in several locations, members of the Vermont General Assembly. The effort resulted in an average attendance of about 30 participants per forum. The Board also accepted comment via its website, and received 55 written submittals.

At each forum, the Board provided a PowerPoint presentation as a way to provide participants with background information on each topic, as well as prompt them to provide feedback.

After engaging participants at each of the six forums for about two hours at a time, the Board was able to identify common concerns, reoccurring themes and nearly universal suggestions, all of which are identified in this executive summary and detailed in the various chapters of this report.

While the information presented in this executive summary is meant to synthesize participant’s most common thoughts, it by no means is meant to represent a complete offering of what was on the minds of those who answered the Board’s call to provide insight into how they view the state of transportation in Vermont, and how these views affect whether they find Vermont an attractive place to live, work and raise a family.

To understand the full depth of what was on participant’s minds, the Board recommends that the reader digest in full each of the report’s chapters, which are written to provide an in-depth perspective of each topic.

Download full version (PDF): The Decline of Driving

About the Vermont Transportation Board
The Transportation Board’s inception as successor to the Highway Board occurred in 1975…The Board’s duties and responsibilities include response to appeals, petitions and specific activities pursuant to statutory authority; i.e. Highways (Title 19) and Aeronautics, Railroads and Surface Transportation (Title 5).

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