Connecticut commuters are driving less and utilizing public transportation more, especially in the state’s urban areas.
That’s according to a report released Wednesday by the Connecticut Public Research Institute.
“There is a shift away from driving in our cities here in Connecticut and across the country,” Sean Doyle of ConnPIRG said.
The Stamford-Bridgeport area saw a 5.5 percent decrease in vehicle-miles traveled between 2006 and 2011. Driving in New Haven and Hartford also declined by 2.6 and 1.9 percent, respectively.
Instead of commuting by private vehicle, more Connecticut commuters are opting for public transit. Between 2005 and 2010, transit passenger miles per person increased by 14.2 percent in New Haven, and 8.6 percent in the Bridgeport-Stamford area.
Not all of the decline in driving can be blamed on the 2008 economic recession. Research has shown that there is a weak relationship between increases in unemployment and decreases in driving, said Doyle speaking at a ConnPIRG transportation forum at University of Connecticut last month. This suggests that the decline in driving has more to do with lifestyle choices than with economic struggles.
More commuters are choosing to travel by bicycle in Hartford and New Haven especially. New Haven is ranked 10th nationwide regarding increases in bicycle commuters. The city saw an increase of 0.3 percent between 2000 and 2010, ConnPIRG found.
A new generation of drivers also is making the choice to utilize more public transit. Between 2001 and 2009, Americans between 16 and 34 years of age reduced their average driving miles by 23 percent.
“Millennials are choosing to live in urban places . . . places where they don’t have to rely on a car,” Doyle said.
With the decline in driving and the increase in public transportation, Connecticut’s aging infrastructure poses a problem for commuters. The average age of a Connecticut bridge is 53 years, even though the average lifespan of a bridge is only 50 years. The 100-year-old rail infrastructure also is in need of repair as many Connecticut commuters are well aware. In September, Metro-North, a railroad that services more than 125,000 commuters a day, suffered a power-outage that forced many commuters to find alternative routes to New York City during a 12-day period of limited service.
“Policy makers need to wake up and realize the driving boom is over. Based on these national and local trends, we should be investing in public transit and biking for the future,” Doyle said.
In order to finance the state’s infrastructure needs, the Department of Transportation is going to need more funding than what the highway trust fund can provide. The highway trust fund is financed primarily by the gas tax, but as Connecticut commuters are opting to drive less and vehicles become more fuel efficient, that source of funding is dwindling fast.
“The gas tax is no longer a sustainable source of transportation funding,” the Department of Transportation’s David Elder said at a UConn transportation forum last month.
The federal gas tax is not indexed to inflation and has had the same flat rate since 1993.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenaur, D-Oregon, announced his proposed bill that would raise the federal gas tax to 33.4 cents per gallon if adopted.
On WNPR’s Where We Live on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy indicated that he would support an increase to the federal gas tax in order to fund Connecticut’s transportation needs.
“Until we find a better way to finance transportation improvements than the gas tax, then you have to support an increase in the gas tax if you want to be intellectually honest about supporting increased investment in infrastructure . . . For Connecticut there is virtually nothing else that matters more to our economic salvation than improving the viaducts to New York and to Boston” Murphy said.