Posted by: kentduston | June 30, 2008

Peak Travel?

A number of websites are reporting a recent release from the US Department of Transport, noting a decrease in the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) year-on-year. The significance of this is that VMT has been steadily rising since the end of WWII, so this reverses a trend that’s around 60 years old.

The reason for the change in behaviour seems to be linked to rapidly rising fuel prices and the slow-motion implosion of the US economy. Simply put, the number of miles driven by US consumers is gradually falling, and the usage of public transport is rising to compensate. The graph speaks volumes:


And where the US goes, many western democracies follow. The economic pressures being felt by American consumers are no different to the ones being experienced in New Zealand, and – anecdotally at least – public transport volumes in Wellington seem to be up, whilst congestion seems to be reducing. It’s what you’d expect when the price of oil has risen by around 40% in six months.

However the response of the roading-centric DoT in the US is probably also indicative of the kind of thinking we can expect from our local . Rather than using the data to re-assess the viability of building more roads predicated on rising traffic volumes, the Department of Transport are suggesting that new funding sources – rather than just fuel levies – need to be found to keep construction progressing at the historical rate!

Sooner or later, reality will need to sink in – that VMT may have passed its all-time peak, and that more roads are going to represent a poor investment in a society that will be driving less in the future.


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