Baby boomers started driving at a young age and became more mobile than any generation before or since.
How long those 74 million people born between 1946 and 1964 continue to work, whether they choose to live in their suburban houses or flock instead to city neighborhoods will have ramifications for all Americans.
If boomers stop commuting in large numbers, will rush hours ease? As age erodes their driving skills, will there be a greater demand for public transportation, businesses that cater to the home-bound or automated cars?
People tend to travel the most between ages 45 and 55 and taper off after that. If millions of baby boomers start driving less, it would reduce gas tax revenues, which are used to help maintain highways and public transit. Federal gas tax revenue is already forecast to decline as mandatory auto fuel economy improvements kick in.
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But boomers could defy expectations by remaining more mobile into their retirement years.
“Baby boomers have always been an active generation who want to go places, so we don’t see them sitting in porch rockers upon retirement,” said Gloria Berquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “They will want the freedom and mobility of a vehicle.”
A shift in the housing market may already be occurring as leading-edge boomers appear less interested in age-restricted communities than their parents, according to a recent report by the Urban Land Institute, a land-use think tank.
“They are not looking to retire early and are not seeking to isolate themselves among the elderly,” the report said.
Stuart Peskoe, 58, an engineering manager, said the Internet and delivery services may help him and his wife cut back their driving trips. “UPS and FedEx have this pretty good deal going with Amazon and Netflix,” and the local grocery store delivers online orders, he said. “More and more we don’t have to leave the house if we don’t want to.”
Automakers are banking on boomers being able to stretch out their driving years with the aid of safety technologies – such as adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning systems and blind-spot monitoring – that are becoming more common in cars. Some states already permit road testing of automated cars that drive themselves.
Demographers have noted an uptick in retirees moving to central cities where they’re less dependent on a car. Such moves could drive up housing costs and accommodations for the elderly, such as more benches at bus stops or a slowing of the timing of pedestrian crossing lights.