October 5, 2013

Is there such a thing as peak driving or is the economy just very bad?

Not sure if you've heard of "peak driving." It's the idea that at some point, maybe 2005-2011, the amount people drive cars hit a peak at which point it began to decline. Some people think this is a permanent decline connected to a cultural shift that is often attributed to the attitudes of Millenials. Others think it's a temporary blip associated with the bad economy.  Here are a a few links to posts that discuss this idea:

Better Cities and Towns
Car registrations have dropped in Boston by more than 50,000 in the last five years! Meanwhile, Boston’s population grew by 4.8 percent from 2000 to 2010. That growth has accelerated in the last two years. Boston gained 19,000 people, or 3.1 percent, from 2010 to 2012. At that pace, the population will rise by 15 percent this decade, more than any decade since beginning of the 20th century. That outcome is not far-fetched, as building permits increased 126 percent in 2012 and show no signs of tapering.

 New Geography
Driving per capita in urban areas peaked in 2005. Between 2005 and 2011, driving declined seven percent. In the context of rising gasoline prices, and economic trends, the real news is not how much driving has fallen, but rather how little. A seven percent reduction is slight compared to the one and one-half times increase in gas prices over the past decade (Figure 2). Per capita travel by car and light truck has fallen back only to 2002 levels, which remained above the driving rates of previous years.

Yahoo Finance
It’s true that cars seem to be falling out of favor with certain groups of Americans. But there could be other explanations for that besides the peak driving idea. Driving miles may be down simply because fewer people have jobs and more have moved closer to cities in the aftermath of the housing bust. The total amount of miles driven declined at least twice before, during recessions in the 1970s and early 1980s. It could be that drivers are just taking longer to get back to cruising speed this time, which would be in line with the nature (and severity) of the latest recession.
U.S. transportation planners are currently busy playing catchup to a new reality: People just aren’t driving as much as they used to. Recent studies suggest that miles driven peaked in 2004 — well before the economic downturn hit the United States. In 2012, vehicle miles traveled per capita dropped again almost a half percent, now the lowest driving miles per capita since 1996. So what’s driving the change? A whole host of factors, it turns out — everything from better public transit to high gas prices to an aging population.

Streets Blog
But now per capita driving has declined eight straight years in America. Total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) hasn’t really budged in five years, and remains below its peak. A number of things have fundamentally changed since the time when you could chart driving behavior into the future using an upward line, according to a new paper by the State Smart Transportation Initiative, a think-tank based out of the University of Wisconsin which counts 19 state DOTs among its partners.

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