New car-sharing services, travel applications and other technological tools are contributing to the broader shift away from driving among Americans, especially younger ones interested in digital multitasking on the go, according to a study released Tuesday by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.
"Personal auto ownership used to be the clear ticket to mobility," Joanna Guy, of the Maryland PIRG Foundation, said in a statement. "For baby boomers, driving your car represented freedom and spontaneity. But today — especially for younger people — owning a car increasingly represents big expenses and parking hassles."
In Maryland, drivers have decreased their mileage by 4.1 percent since 2007, the organization said, and fewer young people are seeking drivers' licenses in high school.
While car-sharing services like ZipCar and citywide bike-sharing programs have provided new alternatives to driving, the benefit of using smartphones and wireless Internet services to conduct business while using public transit options has led more people to leave the steering wheel behind, the study found.
The number of workers and consumers conducting business via "telework and e-commerce" also contributed to the decline, the study found.
"Meanwhile, social networking has helped unleash an emerging 'sharing economy,'" the study said.
"The rapid advance of the Internet, mobile communications technologies and social networking — and the technology-enabled transportation services they are spawning — has the potential to expand the share of American households with the freedom to live without a car, or to live with fewer cars than they own today," the study found.
James Smith, Maryland's transportation secretary, said in a statement that the PIRG study is "on target with identifying how new technologies are giving commuters new ways to travel and do business."
Smith also said the state is incorporating ways to take advantage of the technology trend and "embraces real-time travel data, teleworking, ridesharing, bikesharing and advanced vehicle technologies as key elements of a modern, multimodal transportation system."
The study recommended transportation policymakers take advantage of the trend by installing wireless Internet on more transit systems and expanding rideshare and bikeshare programs.
"These technological tools and practices are still in their infancy but spreading fast," said Guy of Maryland PIRG. "Government leaders should focus less on expanding highway capacity and more on public transit, biking, walking and other alternatives to personal cars."