In The Public Interest : Public Transportation, The Wave Of The Future

09/17/2010 11:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

High-maintenance, tech-savvy and outspoken are just a few of the terms describing Generation Y. But car free? According to Ad Age, the millennial cohort is laying off the gas pedal when it comes to driving with a third fewer 17-year olds driving now than 30 years ago. Theories abound on why this shift is occurring, but no one can explain it with certainty. While I can't claim to have the answer, I do know one thing - youth are on board with public transportation.

We're seeing it time and time again in the Golden State of California. In 2008, 50 CALPIRG students were so excited about the prospect of a bullet train that they gave up the usual spring break trip to Mexico for an alternative trip. They toured the projected route of the rail line, holding 9 press events with elected officials along the way, to show how enthused young adults were for the proposal. They held visibility events across the state and got out the vote. As one of the few groups organizing around Proposition 1A, it was the high-hopes of youth that helped pass the crucial ballot measure.

We're seeing it again, this time in the country's "autotopia" of Los Angeles. In the face of endless traffic and smog, two-thirds of young and older Los Angeles County voters passed Measure R. This half-cent, 30-year sales tax will generate up to $40 billion with 65 percent of this revenue expected to fund an ambitious expansion of the region's subway, light rail and bus services. Through the 30/10 initiative, Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa is working to build 12 Measure R funded public transit projects in just 10 years, rather than the planned 30 years, by leveraging again long-term Measure R funds.

This policy is so sound that both Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina have endorsed it. It garners support from other strange bedfellows including labor and business groups, environmentalists and people in the entertainment industry, largely due to the organizing achievements of groups such as Move LA.

And once again, youth are biting at the bit to push this great initiative forward. CALPIRG students at Santa Monica College, University of Southern California, and University of California Los Angeles have held press conferences, secured small business endorsements, turned out to Metro Board meetings, published letters to the editor, and gathered hundreds of written comments of support from their peers. The charge is on amongst young Angelenos to build the region's public transit now.

This growing support could not have come soon enough. We're in a jam literally and figuratively. We need efficient ways to travel around the state that cut traffic and pollution, but we have far too few transportation options today. Investing in clean and modern public transportation projects, from rapid buses to high-speed rail, is critical to keeping our country moving in the 21st century. Let's hope we don't have to wait another generation before America invests in first-class public transportation.

The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) is a statewide non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization. CALPIRG is one of 26 state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) a part U.S. PIRG, the federation of state PIRGs.