US PIRG report finds reduced driving and rates of car commuting in most populous US urbanized areas
8 December 2013
|VMT per capita has declined across the US (2006 to 2011). States with shading are missing reliable data for all or part of an urbanized area, and ‘X’s denote the location of excluded urbanized areas. Source: US PIRG. Click to enlarge.|
A new report by the US PIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group details reduced driving miles and rates of car commuting in the US’ most populous urbanized areas, as well as greater use of public transit and biking in most cities. The average American drives 7.6% fewer miles today than when per-capita driving peaked in 2004.
The report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities,” is based on the most current available government data and is, according to US PIRG, the first national study to compare transportation trends for America’s largest cities and lists results for each. Among the report’s national findings:
The proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle—either alone or in a carpool—declined in 99 out of 100 of America’s most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and the 2007-2011 period averaged in US Census data.
The proportion of residents working from home has increased in 100 out of the 100 largest urbanized areas since 2000.
The average number of vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) per capita declined in 54 out of the 74 large urbanized areas the trends of which could be analyzed between 2006 and 2011.
New Orleans has seen the largest drop in per-capita VMT (22%) since 2006, possibly a result of Hurricane Katrina. The urbanized areas containing two Wisconsin cities, Milwaukee and Madison, saw the second and third biggest drops in per-capita VMT: 21% and 18%, respectively. Two Pennsylvania urbanized areas, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, saw the fourth and fifth biggest drops in per-capita VMT: 14: and 13:, respectively.
The proportion of households without cars increased in 84 out of the 100 largest urbanized areas from 2006 to 2011. The proportion of households with two cars or more cars decreased in 86 out of the 100 of these areas during that period.
The proportion of residents bicycling to work increased in 85 out of 100 of America’s largest urbanized areas between 2000 and 2007-2011.
The number of passenger-miles traveled per capita on transit increased in 60 out of 98 of America’s large urbanized areas whose trends could be analyzed between 2005 and 2010.
The study found that cities with the largest decreases in driving were not those hit hardest by the recession. Rather, the economies of urbanized areas with the largest declines in driving appear to have been less affected by the recession according to unemployment, income and poverty indicators.
Between 2006 and 2011, the average increase in the unemployment rate in the 15 urbanized areas with the highest per-capita declines in VMT was 3.9 percent, while the average increase in all other urbanized areas was 4.6 percent.
Between 2006 and 2011, the average increase in the poverty rate of the 15 urbanized areas with the highest per-capita declines in VMT was 2.7 percent, while the average increase in all other urbanized areas was 3.6 percent.
The Millennial generation, which will constitute the largest share of future travelers, is leading these trends. Previous research by US PIRG Education Fund and others has shown that young people have the steepest reductions in driving. Americans 16 to 34 years of age reduced their average driving miles by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.
The report makes a number of policy recommendation based on its findings:
Revisit transportation plans. Many existing transportation plans continue to reflect assumptions that the number of miles driven will continue to rise steadily over time. Officials at all levels should revisit transportation plans to ensure that they reflect recent declines in driving and new understandings of the future demand for travel.
Reallocate resources. With driving stagnating in many areas and demand for transit, bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure increasing, officials should reallocate resources away from highway expansion projects and toward system repair and programs that expand the range of transportation options available to Americans.
Remove barriers to non-driving transportation options. In many areas, planning and zoning laws and transportation funding rules limit public officials’ ability to expand access to transportation choices. Officials at all levels should remove these barriers and ensure access to funding for non-driving forms of transportation.
Use innovative travel tools and services. New technologies and techniques provide transportation officials with new tools to address transportation challenges. Transportation agencies should encourage the use of carsharing, bikesharing and ridesharing and provide real-time travel information for public transit via smartphone.
Get better data. Transportation agencies should compile and make available to the public more comprehensive, comparable and timely data to allow for better informed analysis of the causes and magnitude of changes in driving trends. Officials at all levels should eliminate inconsistencies in the reporting of transportation data, increase the frequency of surveys that shed light on changes in transportation preferences and behaviors, and use emerging new sources of information made possible by new technologies in order to gain a better grasp of how driving trends are changing and why.
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