Metro Driving Down in Austin, Indianapolis, Atlanta; Up in New Orleans
WASHINGTON (RushPRnews)12/17/08â€“ America is experiencing its longest and steepest drop in driving, signaling a permanent shift away from reliance on the car to other modes of transportation, according to a new Brookings Institution report released today. In the coming years, this shift will have far reaching implications for transportation, environmental, energy, and land-use planning.
Entitled, â€œThe Roadâ€¦ Less Traveled: An Analysis of Vehicle Miles Traveled Trends in the U.S.,â€ the report also presents a first-of-its kind survey which ranks all 50 states and the nationâ€™s 100 largest metro areas for their â€œdriving footprintâ€ and shows who drives the most, who drives the least, and where driving is declining the fastest.
â€œThe American driver has hit a wall,â€ stated Robert Puentes, author of the report and a fellow at the
Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. â€œWe are now driving the same distance per year as we
did in 1998.â€
Reinforcing the Brookingsâ€™ findings, the Federal Highway Administration data released on Friday
show the driving decline continued in October. “Even though gasoline prices declined sharply from
September through October, drivers didn’t get back in their cars,” said Puentes.
Puentes added: â€œWith important conversations underway on infrastructure spending as economic
stimulus, itâ€™s critical for the new Congress and administration to recognize the long-term implications
of these travel trends and to use this as an occasion to put forth a new vision that reflects new realities and is not just more of the same.â€
The number of miles that Americans have traveled in their cars (â€œVehicle Miles Traveledâ€ or VMT)
started to slow as far back as 2004 – long before the extreme fluctuation in gas prices and the start of
the economic slowdown – and has been falling since 2007. From October 2007 to September 2008, for
example, we drove 90 billion fewer miles than the same time period the year before. For the first time
in our history, the amount of roadway available to drivers is outpacing the number of miles we actually
drive. Transit use, interestingly, is at its highest level since the 1950â€™s, and Amtrak just set a ridership
record this year.
The Brookings report identifies a variety of factors as responsible for the decline in driving: market
saturation of vehicle ownership, the plateau in the number of women entering the
workforce, a possible ceiling in the amount of driving any one individual can tolerate,
increased ridership on mass transit, the development of commercial centers closer to home,
and rising unemployment.
There is a down side: fewer drivers on the road have brought revenues from the gas tax,
the primary source of funding for transportation projects, to all-time lows.
â€œOur ending love affair with the car has tremendous implications for transportation policy,â€ stated Adie
Tomer, Research Analyst at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. â€œAs gas tax receipts
plummet, we will have to get smarter about how we spend our transportation dollars. We cannot afford
to build more roads that people simply will not use. We run the very real risk of severely misallocating
This trend, however, is largely positive for the nation, the report contends. Lower fuel
consumption is vital to our energy security and for mitigating climate change, traffic fatalities are
down, and urban centers are becoming denser and more accessible.
Topmost among the stories told by this analysis are state trends. Southeastern and
Intermountain West states, for example, experienced the largest growth rates in driving
between 1991 and 2006, while the Great Lakes, Northeastern and Pacific states grew at a
slower pace. But by 2008, 48 states had seen declines in the per capita driving rates of their
Today, drivers in Nevada, Idaho and Colorado are leading the way in ending their addiction to the
car. The only states with a jump up in driving (total VMT) since 2006 are North Dakota, South
Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.
State Greatest Drop in VMT Per Capita
Dec. 2006 – Sept. 2008
Driving rates show strong metro trends as well. Since 2002, the 100 largest metro areas have
seen steadily declining rates of driving, and as they grow in size these rates actually drop
more. For example, driving dipped 0.9% between 2005 and 2006 in New York, Los Angeles,
Chicago, Washington, DC, and Dallas.
However, drivers getting out of their cars the fastest are in the metro areas of Austin,
Indianapolis, Atlanta, Portland, ME, and Houston. Those metros where driving has jumped up
since 2002 include New Orleans, Cape Coral, FL, Tucson, and Colorado Springs.
Metro Area * Biggest Drop in VMT Per Capita (2002-2006)
Austin-Round Rock, TX -12.3%
Indianapolis-Carmel, IN -8.1%
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA -7.4%
Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, ME -5.9%
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX -5.2%
Metro Area * Biggest Increase in VMT Per Capita (2002-
New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 36.9%
Cape Coral-Ft. Myers, FL 23.9%
Tucson, AZ 17.3%
Colorado Springs, CO 16.8%
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL 15.8%
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 15.8%
* To conduct the analysis for metropolitan areas, we are forced to limit our roadways to principal arterials because this is the only county-level data in HPMS. These roadways carried nearly 55 percent of all VMT in the nation in 2006; this is up from 52 percent in 1991. In addition, because these roads are predominantly part of the National Highway System or a statemanaged roadway, these are the roads primarily supported by federal and states gas taxes. The remaining collector and local roads are primarily supported by local property taxes. Thus, this metro analysis covers the majority of total driving and the vast majority of driving on federal and state roads.
â€œWe are in a transformational time which presents us with unique opportunities to change
federal and state policies to reflect the new realities of how we get around,â€ added Puentes.
â€œWe conducted this analysis because VMT patterns inform the solutions to the national
transportation, environmental and energy challenges we face today.â€
The report calls on Congress and state legislatures to raise the federal gas tax in the short-term and
repeal the gas guzzler tax exemption for SUVs and light trucks to increase revenues. Policymakers
must also consider other revenue streams that reflect changes in travel patterns, such as a carbon tax.
Other recommendations include creating new federal mechanisms to spark innovation in places that
want to link disparate transportation, housing, energy and environmental policies to create better
outcomes. New grants could be awarded to promote sustainable development patterns or reduce carbon emissions.
â€œThese travel trends and their implications combined with heightened interest in rethinking how we pay
for federal infrastructure creates a unique opportunity to put forth a bold new vision for our
transportation policy,â€ stated Puentes.
About the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings
Created in 1996, the Metropolitan Policy Program (MPP) provides decision makers with cutting edge
research and policy ideas for improving the health and prosperity of metropolitan areas including their
component cities, suburbs, and rural areas. To learn more visit:
About the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative
â€œThe Road â€¦ Less Traveledâ€ was prepared as part of MPPâ€™s Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative.
Launched in 2008, the goal of the initiative is to develop timely, independent analysis, frame key
debates, and offer policy recommendations to help leaders in the U.S. and abroad address key
infrastructure challenges with specific emphasis on transportation. This work builds on a decade of
independent and rigorous research and policy development. This and other publications, speeches,
presentations, and commentary on transportation and infrastructure are available:
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