Driving down in Md. and across nation; group asks for more transit spending

495 Washington beltway

The Washington Beltway

Marylanders drove their vehicles 4% fewer miles from 2005 to 2011, mirroring a general driving decline across the country, according to a report released Thursday by the Maryland PIRG Foundation.

Some of the reduced driving may have been due to the recession. But the state-by-state analysis based on federal figures found driving declined as much or more in states experiencing lower unemployment rates. There was also a more pronounced decline in driving among Millenials, people age 16 to 34, and a smaller percentage of 19 year-olds holding driver’s licenses than 30 years ago.

The report also found that increased telecommuting did not reduce the total number of miles driven.

From the data, PIRG (formerly Public Interest Research Group) drew the conclusion that less money should be spent on roads and more on mass transit.

“It’s time for policy makers to wake up and realize the driving boom is over,” said Joanna Guy of PIRG. “We need to reconsider expensive highway expansions and focus on alternatives such as public transit and biking.”

Bethesda Metro escalators

Bethesda Metro escalators (Photo by ehpien on flickr)

The Maryland General Assembly this year increased the state gasoline tax to help replenish a depleted Transportation Trust Fund. Gov. Martin O’Malley and other state officials have been going around the state announcing new transportation projects, both roads and transit.

The PIRG report simply looks at reduced driving per person and tries to correlate the data with other factors, such as unemployment, labor force participation, economic conditions and telecommuting.

Congestion not part of study

Other studies have found the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas are among the most congested in the country. The PIRG study makes no attempt to look at road congestion or highway conditions as a factor in reduced driving.

The study also does not suggest how much money should be shifted to transit or where the money would come from.

O’Malley this month appointed 11 members to a Local and Regional Transportation Funding Task Force to “help determine the best ways to support regional and local transportation system needs,” he said. The task force was created as part of Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act that increases the gas tax over the next four years, raising transportation spending by $4.4 billion. Major projects envisioned include the Purple Line from Bethesda to New Carrollton, and the Red Line in Baltimore City.

–Len Lazarick


About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Dale McNamee

    Hey, PIRG !
    The problem is NOT with spending enough on roards and mass transit…Why don’t you look into the RAIDING of the transportation fund by our wonderful governor, Marty O’Malley and the Md.Legislature for other ” pressing needs” and “emergencies ” ?
    Oh,wait ! You can’t…You are for BIG GOVT. !
    BTW, mass transit should be privatized…Maybe the evil ” profit motive” may make it independent and solvent !
    Also, I don’t like paying for things I don’t use or need…
    PIRG is an outgrowth of the Naderite movement… Remember their “food safety” ( movie popcorn, etc.) propaganda push ? Pure Ralph Nader !

  2. joe

    Governor O’Malley and the Democratic far left wing progressive legislators don’t care how much of other people’s (taxpayer) money they spend, as long as their absurd tax and spend ideological agenda keeps getting these politicians or their successors elected.
    When Maryland’s Democratic liberal voters see that their pockets have been emptied by ever increasing taxes, with little tangible results, stop believing the governor’s propaganda as to how good it is in this state (declining business statistics), and Maryland’s productive people have left they may wake up. I seriously doubt it!

  3. KatieSilverSpring

    Of course PIRG would make that recommendation; too bad they didn’t find any of us Marylanders who have had to take multiple PT jobs just to keep our heads above the water – more driving to places not accommodated by Metro or bus schedules.

    I wonder what truly “major” projects O’Malley has in mind for these increased taxes after having drained the Transportation Fund in the past.

    • rrhersh

      Let me see if I have this right: You (a) criticize a study recommending that more money be devoted to mass transit by (b) pointing out that many areas lack access to mass transit.

      • KatieSilverSpring

        Wow, scooted right around that one, I see. The Fund has always been for transportation projects, but it just keeps disappearing …

        PIRG will always be PIRG, feeding the left what it needs to promote what it says but never does.