Wanna impress the girls with your ride? Get a bus pass.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license courtesy  Phillip Pressar 

By Joe Lambe

“Every woman I know she’s crazy about an automobile, and here I am standing with nothing but rubber heels.”

Billy “The Kid” Emerson wrote that song in 1956, when Americans loved cars and spurned buses and trolleys.

Now some women seem to be crazy about transit. Say what?

The number of miles Americans drove cars increased each year from World War II until a few years ago, when things mysteriously changed.

Studies this year by the Frontier Group and US Public Interest Research Group raise questions for Kansas City and other cities and states as they plan for transit and road building.

Among the findings:

  • By 2011 the average American was driving 6 percent fewer miles a year than in 2004. Per capita driving is as low as it was in 1996.
  • From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by people ages 16 to 34 dropped 23 percent.
  • Transit ridership has increased steadily, with Americans taking 10 percent more transit trips in 2011 than in 2005. This was at a time when more than half the nation’s transit systems were forced by the recession to raise fares, cut services or both.

And locally, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority has reported that its reserve fund will be gone by 2018 and Kansas City services will have to be cut, unless there are major changes in funding.

Last week, KCATA officials reported to a city council committee that already they are not meeting demand for buses.  They also say that people ages 20 to 35 – the nation’s future leaders – are their fastest growing group of riders.

Not surprising, since the think tank studies report that from 2001 to 2009, the number of mass transit passenger miles traveled by 16 to 34-year-olds increased by 40 percent per person.

In 2009, those in that age group took 24 percent more bike trips than they did in 2001. Also that year, they walked where they were going 16 percent more often than the age group did in 2001.

The Frontier Group reports that young people prefer to live in “an area characterized by nearby shopping, restaurants, schools and public transportation as opposed to sprawl.”

A survey of 18 to 34-year-olds found that 16 percent said they drove less to protect the environment, compared to 9 percent of older generations.

The study also found that social networking and recreation make it possible to avoid some car trips.

And improvements to technology like smart phone apps, which the KCATA uses, make public transportation easier.

Car-sharing and bike-sharing services also reduce car use, it reports.

Emerson’s song goes on: “Walking women home is a thing of the past, women want to ride and ride around in class.

Some like Cadillacs, boys, some like Fords, some like anything just as long as it rolls.”

These days, he might fare better with some of them by using his rubber heels and a bus pass.

What do you think? Most of our readers are in the 18-34 year old group, and we wonder if this rings true to you.

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