American Driving Miles are at New Records

COST Commentary: For about eight years, starting in the recession, there have been many articles heralding a new dawn in transportation; one of fewer people driving and the increased use of “alternative” transportation. The article below shows that, through November 2015, the U.S. is on pace for 2015 to become the most heavily traveled year in history and is growing at a rate faster than prior to the recession. It is almost as if the trend is rushing to catch-up with where it would have been had it stayed on its pre-recession trend As noted in the chart there was a decline at the beginning and a flat period of driving during the recession years. This would seem logical under the severe economic circumstances including the rising price of oil. However, it would not seem logical for this short few years of delay, to a long trend of citizens’ transportation choices, to be projected as a fundamental transformation. The very positive connection between transportation and quality of life has not changed.

It is true that people in the U.S. and in the world’s developed countries are moving rapidly into a transportation transformation which has already begun. New technologies have inspired innovations leading to car sharing and other services such as Uber, Lyft, Carma Carpooling, RideScout and many others which are already making dramatic and growing positive impacts on transportation. These and the projected advent of self-driving vehicles in a few years provide the promise of safer driving and more effective land use in many ways.

COST will present a series of postings on this site which support our premises that future transportation planning must include consideration of two major factors: 1) People have made wise transportation choices which provide them with the quality of life they desire, and 2) New technologies, which are closer than many understand, will provide improved safety, increased roadway capacity, reduced congestion and will result in converting substantial land to more constructive and cost-effective uses. We also believe transportation using ineffective modes, such as urban rail, which are outdated with unaffordably high cost, requiring major taxpayer subsidies, will not play a significant rode in our transportation future. There are much more cost effective transportation approaches to serve a total community’s needs and and the greater-good of its citizens.
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American Drivers Are Back on the Road in Record-Setting Fashion
By David Harrison, January 27, 2016, Wall Street Journal

An expanding economy and dramatically cheaper gas prices have lured Americans back onto the roads, where they’re racking up record mileage, new data shows.

U.S. vehicle-miles traveled surged 4.3% in November 2015 compared with November 2014, the largest increase since 1999, according to the Transportation Department. That put 2015 on pace to become the most heavily traveled year in history.

In the 12 months leading up to November, drivers covered 3.14 trillion miles, up 3.6% from the same period in 2014, the highest year-over-year increase since 1997, according to the department.

For decades, the number of miles driven reliably increased every year as a growing population and greater access to cars pushed more people on the roads. That changed in 2008, as the recession took hold. Overall vehicle-miles traveled dropped in 2008 and 2009 and struggled to rebound.

But a labor market that added roughly 221,000 jobs a month last year and gas prices that skirted the $2-per-gallon mark have all but ensured that 2015 will set a new high point.

U.S. Driving Trend

“It’s a two-pronged impact,” said Bill Eisele, senior research engineer at the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. “The increased economic vitality certainly contributed to move travel along with the gas prices being reduced.”

Gas Price Trend copy

Throughout 2015, drivers appeared increasingly more willing to get behind the wheel than they were in 2014. That could be because low gas prices have made people more likely to hit the road, Mr. Eisele said:

“If gas prices are low I’m probably not going to suddenly change what I do to get to work today,” he said. “When we talk about our incidental trips, that’s when we see those differences: our family vacations and our holidays.”

The uptick in driving comes at a time when fewer young people are getting driver’s licenses even as the share of older people with a license is rising. While it’s possible those younger people could eventually start driving as they age, it could be that driving may be about to lose its allure among younger generations.

This is the DOT site of driving data.

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