Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The new survey shows that Arizonans are driving less and taking other forms of transportation more often. The study was released by Arizona Public Interest Research Group and Saint Luke's Health Initiatives. Jon Ford is communications director for Saint Luke's Health Initiatives. Nice to have you here.
Jon Ford: Good to be here.
Ted Simons: What exactly does the study looking at?
Ted Simons: What it looked at is what people are doing in terms of how they are getting around. We had seen a national study that said that there was a decline in miles traveled by car and we said to ourselves, gee, a lot of people are going to think that Arizona's different. So we said, well let’s check it out, let’s take a look, and well we found that it’s not. Over a seven-year period from 2005 to 2012 we're looking at a 10%, 10.5% decline in vehicle miles traveled, while at the same time you have nearly a 30% increase in public transit miles traveled.
Ted Simons: Interesting, and the conclusion seemed to be along the lines that the driving boom is over? Was there still a driving boom as late as 2005 and 2006?
Jon Ford: There was still an increase in vehicle miles traveled as late as 2005, correct.
Ted Simons: And it’s over, you think, huh?
Jon Ford: Well no, the trend is linear, things go up and down. But the trend line is pointing downwards, yes.
Ted Simons: 11% decline in annual vehicle miles per capita, what's going on out there?
Jon Ford: It's a combination of things. For one, we've got a very large generation moving in called the milliennials, and they are choosing a different lifestyle. They really don't want to be in their cars. If I may use a term we've heard before, they are voting with their feet. They are jumping on bicycles and walking and preferring mass transit. Over half of milliennials choose their place of living based on whether or not there is high-quality public transit. And 66%, two thirds are saying their reasons for leaving a given city is because there's a lack of high quality public transit.
Ted Simons: That's the thought process as milliennials become adults and such. Do we know if that's going to change as they get older and start families, move to the suburbs. What do we know about that?
Jon Ford: My crystal ball, I can't tell you. Maybe it's shaped a little by the recession, as well but those are a lifetime and reinforcing so when something happens as a young adult it tends to stay with you. You choose a lifestyle. I was talking about this report the other day and mentioned that milliennials have really cool bikes they ride around. They are taking great pride in the distinctiveness of their bicycles. There is a different movement going on around here.
Ted Simons: Indeed, but the idea that the same group is going to dominate future transportation trends, that can't be ignored.
Jon Ford: And another huge generation on the other end of the spectrum, our senior population is aging in place. They need transportation options other than a car because, quite frankly, they are not able to use a car. They are becoming large users of public transit, as well.
Ted Simons: How much of this could be a reflection of the recession?
Jon Ford: Probably not much at all, given the trend started in 2005 well before the recession kicked in. As we're coming out into recovery the numbers are still going on a little bit.
Ted Simons: As far as commuting, not as many people employed? Those employed might have part-time jobs, not the kind of thing where you commute? The study doesn't suggest that's not too much of a factor?
Jon Ford: There are absolutely other factors. There is the factor of technology. It's changing how people move from place to place and whether they do it or not. People are working from home more than they used to. There are less miles being traveled from and to work as well. There are a multitude of factors, definitely some leading factors that say this is something that's going to continue.
Ted Simons: With this in mind, you've got the numbers now, the study in hand. How does it factor into future transportation policy?
Jon Ford: This is the big question. A lot of people have seen this report and say they are thankful for it. There are debates going on right now about where money should be spent. Build more highways and roads, or perhaps take a small percentage of those budgets previously put into highways and do things like improving quality in terms of public transit. Do things in terms of making complete streets that welcome users of all types. Those are the big questions that need to be asked and answered. They should be answered in the idea of moving more toward mass transit.
Ted Simons: Fix what you've got, improving what you've got, as opposed to building something new? That seems to make sense by way of this report?
Jon Ford: There are people in the country now saying cities are our new suburbs. People are choosing to live and work in the cities and they need to be made more liveable. High quality public transit, more walkable and liveable communities and those things are funded by taking care of those streets that connect people. We are not moving cars, we’re connecting people with streets.
Ted Simons: And you talk about kids and their bicycles. Old folks and our bicycles, as well. Everyone seems to be riding a bike and taking public transit, these sorts of things. That has to factor into transportation policy, as well. Just increasing options makes those options better.
Jon Ford: And to be clear, nobody's saying cars are going away.
Ted Simons: Right.
Jon Ford: We're saying we've built a city and a lot of urban areas, especially in Arizona, focused on moving cars quickly. Now it's time to take a look at a more balanced approach.
Ted Simons: As far as these surveys, often have they been done? How often are they going to be done again to see if driving trends are sticking?
Jon Ford: Because of what we've seen so far, and because there will be some more policy discussion, I could see these surveys being done more often. Arizona is dedicated to keeping the research current, maybe every couple, three years.
Ted Simons: You also mentioned that smartphones could be used for ride sharing, bike sharing, car sharing, fill-in-the-blank sharing. Brave New World out there.
Jon Ford: This is where technology comes in. A lot of us, growing up thought, it sucks to wait for the bus, right? Well now they don’t, they look at their app and it says the bus is going to be there at 5:38 so they stay in their house until it's time to walk out for the bus.
Ted Simons: What kind of reaction have you had from this so far? Are people saying, yeah, I thought so? Are they surprised by this? What are you hearing?
Jon Ford: For those with whom SLHI has done a lot of work, we're all saying, I knew it, I knew it. I think there is going to be a number of people who haven't been engaged in the discussions who might be surprised.
Ted Simons: As far as Arizona is concerned it's different, tough on a day like today to be out there waiting for anything, whether it's a bus or light rail, pedaling your bike is a bit of a chore on a day like today. How does that factor into all of this?
Jon Ford: I would say that I would challenge that just slightly. I know I have been on city blocks here and downtown Phoenix at high noon, and I've seen dozens of cyclists go by. It surprised me, too. When you build an infrastructure, when you create an environment that becomes more amenable and people want to do them, they will do them.
Ted Simons: What is Arizona perg? Talk about Saint Luke's and perg and how you got together.
Jon Ford: Sure. Arizona perg is very interested in increasing the ride options for people who want a more liveable community. They are interested in transportation issues. As far as Saint Luke's health initiatives are concerned we are a health foundation. What we know is particularly active transportation has a huge impact on health. Charlotte, North Carolina, did a light-rail study before and after the opening of their light-rail. In an 18 month period People who rode light-rail lost an average of 6.4. pounds in just 18 months.
Ted Simons: And they were just riding the rail?
Jon Ford: They’re just not in their cars anymore. Just not sitting still anymore. They are walking to the rail, riding the rail, and walking to work.
Ted Simons: Last question. I'm a lawmaker, what do you want me to take from that study?
Jon Ford: I would like to see lawmakers have a discussion about what we do with the money we have to build transportation infrastructure, and talk about how to create a little more balance towards active transportation.
Ted Simons: Very good. Good to have you you here, thank you for joining us.
Jon Ford: Good to be here, thank you.