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Driving on the decline in U.S. cities, study says

Traffic travels north on the 405 freeway just before the 10 freeway in Los Angeles, California July 15, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Redmond
Traffic travels north on the 405 freeway just before the 10 freeway in Los Angeles, California July 15, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Redmond

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Americans in most major U.S. urban areas are driving less, and in some cases a lot less, due to improvements in technology as well as shifting attitudes toward taking to the road, a report released on Wednesday said.

The main drivers of the change are more people working at home, fewer people commuting to work by private car and many young professionals opting not to own a car at all, according to the Texas Public Interest Research Group.

The report used U.S. government transportation and census data to chart who is driving where in urban areas and found that Americans, on average, drive 7.6 percent fewer miles now than when driving peaked in 2004 on a per-capita basis.

"We see an increased use of public transportation, green transportation and walking among the nation's millennials," said Sara Smith, a researcher with TexPIRG.

Many millennials - the generation that came of age after 2000 - are using information technology to plot routes by foot, by bicycle or on public transport. They also use smartphones to arrange for hourly rental cars when they need vehicles.

Americans between the ages of 16 and 34, on average, reduced their driving miles by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009, according to TexPIRG.

From 2006 to 2011, the average number of miles driven per resident fell in almost three-quarters of the largest U.S. urbanized areas for which up-to-date and accurate data was available, it said.

Higher costs for gasoline and car maintenance, as well as economic malaise, also caused many to cut down on driving.

The urban areas, for which data was available and showed the sharpest declines in driving, were New Orleans, Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, the survey said.

(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Steve Orlofsky)

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