The divide between urban and rural America in widening in another area that has nothing to do with politics: driving.
U.S. city driving has spiked since 2000, while rural driving has declined in a sudden turnabout that cannot be explained by population trends, according to a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study released Tuesday.
The trend may show how economic activity is increasingly concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural communities with fewer opportunities.
It also comes amid the rise of ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft, though it’s not yet clear whether those services have had a significant effect on total miles driven.
Michael Sivak, who conducted the study with Brandon Schoettle, declined to speculate on the causes for the widening gap, saying more research is needed. But he said it’s possible that a lack of opportunity in rural areas has suppressed driving there.
Another possible factor the researchers want to explore is the possibility that Internet access has affected driving rates in these areas. People in rural areas don’t necessarily have to drive to buy certain goods.
The researchers also want to explore whether demographic trends have contributed.
Miles driven in urban environments rose by 33% from 2000 to 2016, according to the study. Miles driven in rural areas fell by 12%.
Population changes don’t explain the trend. During the same period, the number of people living in urban areas rose by 19%, while the rural population was flat.
“Knowing how much driving is done in rural areas versus urban areas is important for people who are concerned about safety,” Sivak said. “The same goes for emissions — how much do we drive and how much do we pollute by driving in urban areas versus rural areas.”