Whitney Sharp always expected she would be driving when she turned 16. But five years later, she has yet to make it behind the wheel — or even to a driver licensing branch.
Sharp is representative of what TransLink has deemed a “noticeable drop” in the proportion of young adults aged 16-24 who are forgoing a traditional rite of passage: getting a driver’s licence.
Only 50 per cent of young people aged 16-19 and 80 per cent of those 20-29 had a driver’s licence in 2011 — down from 60 per cent and 90 per cent respectively in 1999 — according to TransLink’s latest trip diary, which surveyed almost 18,000 households on their commuting patterns, including how many trips they made in a 24-hour period.
There’s no specific reasons given for the decline, but the TransLink analysis suggests it could be attributed to several factors, including a combination of the graduated licensing program and TransLink’s U-Pass program — a cheap universal pass that gives students access to bus, SeaBus and SkyTrain services within Metro Vancouver — or a “generational behaviour change because of shifts in values and attitudes.”
“The notion of getting a car and the ability to drive as a rite of passage is really eroding,” said Larry Frank, professor and J. Armand Bombardier chair in Sustainable Urban Transportation Systems at the University of B.C. “It’s an indication that our degree of car dependence, at least in this region, is declining.”
It appears teens no longer view a restored Mustang as the ticket to independence, said Maria Su, senior manager of research analytics with TransLink. The high price of gas and car ownership, on one hand, and the U-Pass program and better transit opportunities on the other, she said, are likely contributing to the trend, which “is not unique to Vancouver.”
“It used to be when people got out of school, the first thing they did was get a used car because it was a sign of freedom,” Su said. “Now you can meet up with a friend without a car.”