A first of its kind study to be released today by the public interest group TexPIRG shows that Americans, for the first time since the end of World War II, are driving less, and in some cases, a lot less.
"There is a shift away from driving in our cities in Texas and across the country," said Sara Smith, Program Director of the TexPIRG Education Fund.
Figures released by TexPIRG show that dating back to 1946, driving in America showed a gradual but steady increase from less than 500,000 miles to more than three million miles in 2004.
Smith says that growth paused only slightly in the gasoline price shock of the 1970s and in recessions in the early 1960s, the early 1980s, and during the Dot Com Bust of 2000, and routinely resumed its rise again.
By 2004, the average American motorist was driving more than 10,000 miles a year.
But she says everything began to change in 2004, with the graph peaking, leveling off, and then beginning to fall.
She says the record high gasoline prices of 2008 had a little bit to do with it, but she says unlike when gasoline prices hit records previously, driving did not go back up in 2009 when gasoline prices fell to less than $1.40.
And she says this fall in driving was not due to the Great Recession either, because the cities which are growing the most jobs in the past several years saw some of the biggest drops in single driver commuting.
Commuting in San Antonio is down about one percent since 2004, but that pales in comparison to a drop of 4% in San Antonio, and nearly 5% in Austin, and New York City. San Antonio's drop is despite the city's huge increase in population over the past nine years.
Smith says one reason why the trend appears to be permanent is that it is being driven by millennials. Americans between the ages of 16 and 34 are driving an amazing 23% less today than in 2001.
"We see an increase in public transportation, green transportation, walking, among the nation's millennials, especially in Texas," she said.
Analysts say many millennials see a car as an expensive inconvenience, not as the instrument of freedom that is was for Baby Boomers in the sixties and seventies.
She said the report should be a signal to policy makers that wasting money on new and bigger highways is yesterday's thinking. She says the key is to improve public transportation and alternative methods if transportation.
The best way to relieve congestion on roadways, officials point out, is to have fewer people driving on those roadways.