Monday, April 29, 2013

Vehicle Miles Traveled continues to decline, why?

VMTs continue to fall, but why?
It's no secret that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) have been on the decline for nearly eight years. Many have guessed that this is primarily due to the recession that hit the county in 2008. But as our economy has started to grow again VMTs have actually continued to decline, why?

Fuel Prices:
Are we realizing fewer miles traveled on our roadways due to higher fuel prices? It wouldn’t be a tough argument to make that our historically high gas prices have had a strong impact on the VMTs; as they did back in the 70’s during the oil embargo. At that time the dip in VMTs was roughly 6% of total miles driven, Link to Graph. Today, we have realized a drop of 8.75% and that decrease continues. It is important to remember that today’s decline in VMTs actually started almost three years prior to the housing crisis and the subsequent recession.

Is it possible that younger people in America really don’t want to drive as much as older generations at that age? A recent study reported that between 2001 and 2009, the average number of miles driven between 16-34 year olds dropped by 23 percent, Link to Study. Further studies performed by Zipcar show that 45 percent of young people (18-34 years old) have consciously made an effort to replace driving with transportation alternatives. And many of America’s youth prefer to live places where they can walk, bike, or take public transportation.

Another factor for youth drivers might be the cost of driving. Rising fuel prices are just one part of the equation. Auto insurance rates are on the rise Link to Article, graduated driving laws make it cumbersome and more expensive for young drivers to get licenses, and young drivers also have restrictions placed on their licenses such as driving only during daylight hours and without passengers.

Technology has had an impact on driving. People, specifically young people, can replace some car trips and recreation with social networking such as internet chats, Skype, text messaging, and other interactive technologies. Other technologies such as car sharing allow people to have access to vehicles without the responsibility of ownership.

On the flip side, technology can also make public transportation more appealing through the use of smart-phone applications that provide real-time transit data.

So what does it all mean? Will we continue to realize a decline in VMTs or will we start seeing more miles driven? The answer may be impossible to predict with so many different factors to account for. Personally, I feel that we will continue to see a decline in VMTs. Through continued efforts to expand public transportation systems, improved urban design including Transit Oriented Developments, the mounting research on the health impacts of driving, and maybe most impactful…the overwhelming cost of maintaining the auto-oriented infrastructure our society has come to depend on.

*This post edited by Tom Shook


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