A recent article published by The Washington Post is attempting to answer the question "why don't Millennials want cars?" It's not the first time we've read about the phenomenon, but there still seems to be very little consensus on what is actually driving Millennials away from driving.
While I can't make generalizations about the trend, I am one of those Millennials who gave up a comfortable life in the suburbs to live on the fringes of society as a bike-riding-urbanist-techno-rebel (ie. hipster). Perhaps some of my reasons will resonate with other Millennials.
Remember when gas was under a dollar? Me neither. What I do remember is earning $8 an hour working at a video rental store just so I could pay for gas to drive to and from that same job. It was an obvious inefficiency that bothered me even at age 17.
When I purchased my own car, just after graduating college, it was obvious that the expense was totally out of line with my meager income. Car payments, insurance, gas, and maintenance were approximately $8,000 the one year that I owned a car (which happens to be just about the national average). That was more than a third of my take-home pay my first year out of college!
Rather than providing me with freedom, my car was tethering me to a life that had little room for me to grow personally or professionally. For as long as I owned it I was doomed to a life of low job density and high travel costs.
The lifestyle that prioritizes automobile travel also comes with another massive cost: time. I spent hours in transit, much of the time frozen in New Jersey rush-hour traffic.
The 6 mile trip to work was a coin flip. I could do it in 10 minutes if traffic was flowing, or I could spend 25 minutes in stop and go traffic. Not to mention that friends were 15-30 minutes away, groceries were 15 minutes away, and almost anything else was 30 minutes or more. Each way.
During this same time I was trying to develop other skills. I had gone to school for game design and desperately wanted to pursue it as a career. I came home from work every night to practice coding, something I was slowly teaching myself post-college.
I came to realize that time is my only limited resource, and an insane amount of it was being wasted sitting inside of a silly metal box. Reducing time in transit would allow me to increase my own human capital.
The dangers of climate change have been echoed to me my entire life. Bill Nye was my hero and his show was my favorite TV show for a long time. Possibly still is.
Environmentalism became a multiplier when I started to think about the costs of my transportation choices. I was hemorrhaging money as well as going into debt environmentally. I did not want my choices to result in a future generation of humans that had a lower standard of living than I had.
Then I Changed
Through most of high school I lived with constant back pain. The pain grew worse in college until one night, just before the beginning of my junior year, it was too much. I was rushed to the hospital at 2am to discover that my kidney, because of a birth defect, could not drain properly.
I was operated on that day. My kidney was drained. The pain immediately subsided.
The conclusion of this painful chapter in my life made me realize I had spent a huge portion of my life traveling from one climate controlled box to another inside of a third. It started to seem crazy to spend so much money, time, and energy avoiding the occasional mild discomforts of being human.
Suddenly, riding my bike in the rain wasn't really that bad. It was uncomfortable at worst and lasted only minutes, not years.
So now I bike. Because the costs of driving far outweigh the costs of not driving.