Bicycles wait for their riders at the Metro station, on June, 03, 2015 in Silver Spring, MD. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

For millennials, commuting around D.C. means choosing “the lesser of their evils,” according to a new report from American University. So 60 percent of them are choosing to drive.

That’s according to a new study on the region’s millennials — the generation born between 1981 and 1999 —  released Wednesday by American University’s Kogod School of Business.

The report, which touches on much more than transit and was detailed by our colleague over at Capital Business, Abha Bhattarai, shows that local millennials aren’t as reliant on public transit as stereotype would leave one to believe. Often touted as green-conscious, bike-share, rapid-transit and ride-hailing heavies, the Washington region’s millennials are still largely dependent on the automobile.

What do local millennials want? Many of the same things their parents did.

According to the study, three times the number of Washington area millennials drive to work than use Metro. And the Metro figure — about 20 percent — barely edges those who walk, jog, rollerblade and even hoverboard to their jobs.

“While Millennials are often cited as heavy users of alternative transit options, like bike shares and car shares, the reality from our study is that 60 percent of greater Washington area Millennials are driving alone to work often or always,” the report said.

Some needed context for the study: The proportion of millennial drivers in the transit-dense District pales in comparison to the nationwide figure. Census figures showed 76.4 percent of American workers commuted by driving in 2013.  In the D.C. region, 75.7 percent of workers commuted by driving.

So, millennials drive. But they still drive at a lower rate than the overall population.

Respondents who drove to work at the highest rates included: millennials with children (71 percent), part-time college or grad school students (79 percent) and those living beyond the District’s bordering counties (74 percent). The number of drivers is lower in the District itself, where almost 20 percent of millennials drive alone to work regularly and 44 percent commute using Metro. In Arlington, 36 percent take Metro while 39 percent drive.

The more striking stats come from neighboring counties. Despite having access to Metro, 72 percent of Fairfax County residents report driving alone to work always or often. The same is true for 67 percent of Prince George’s County millennials, and 60 percent in Montgomery County.

In jurisdictions with access to Metro, just 27 percent of millennials report using it to get to work.


Millennial commuter data for D.C. and bordering counties. (Courtesy: Dawn Leijon, Lead researcher of the Kogod Greater Washington Millennial Index)

Among the other findings: like elder generations, millennials put a lot of stock into their commute.

“In all the discussions about millennials and who they are, what they care about and how we should view them, we see them as smartphone-using, foosball-playing, green-conscious, and we overlook that their core concerns are the same concerns that were the concerns of the Gen-Xers and the baby boomers and all the generations before them,” said Erran Carmel, dean of the Kogod School. “Jobs, health and transportation.”

Almost half (46 percent) of millennials surveyed cited traffic, commute times, Metro service or the bus when asked about the worst or most challenging part of living in the Washington area, according to study’s the lead researcher.

“As one respondent noted,” according to the report, “our Metro seems to catch on fire or derail more often than it runs on time.” Another respondent: “Traffic is miserable and the Metro is terrible.”

Words used to describe Metro included “unreliable, underfunded, awful, terrible and death trap.” Lest we forget the three brave souls who described it as “great.”


Words used to describe Metro by respondents to an American University survey. (Courtesy: Dawn Leijon, Lead researcher of the Kogod Greater Washington Millennial Index)

“If our Metro system was incredibly efficient, very clean, people were nice to you when you asked questions, was always on time, and was a web kind of like Paris, then it’s a lot easier to say ‘oh, well people would take that’,” said Dawn Leijon, lead researcher of the Kogod Greater Washington Millennial Index. “They just are operating with a deficit with everybody.”

The data backs up commuters’ gripes. In terms of ease of commute, D.C. performed 31 percent worse than national norms, according to the report, a problem because “Ease of commuting is almost as important to Millennials as salary levels.”

The data collection was part of a broader effort to compile a millennial index, answering the following questions: What do Millennials want? How does the greater Washington area measure up to their needs?

The Index was calculated by gathering data on 300 millennials living in the Washington metropolitan statistical area, a region including D.C. and its immediate suburbs, but also jurisdictions as far as Jefferson County, WV.

In terms of transit, the message was clear to researchers: their subjects value their commutes. And the D.C. region has its work cut out for it.

“The bottom line is that commutes are important — occurring daily and taking huge chunks of time — yet the greater Washington area faces challenges across the board with congested roads, an underfunded and aging Metro and unreliable buses,” the study said. “Aside from those living close enough to walk or bike to work, Millennials face a commuting challenge that forces them to choose the lesser of their evils.”