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US Vehicle Miles Traveled Dropped 1.8% in April

Travel on all roads and streets in the US dropped to an estimated 245.9 billion miles for April 2008—a decrease of 1.8% compared with April 2007, according to the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) monthly Traffic Volume Trends report for April. (Earlier post.)

Urban and rural vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Click to enlarge.

Cumulative travel for 2008 is down by 2.1% at 934.8 billion vehicle miles of travel, compared to the same period in 2007.

The decrease in driving and increase in transit ridership highlights the need to find a more sustainable and effective way to fund highway construction and maintenance, said US Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

We’re burning less fuel as energy costs change driving patterns, steer people toward more fuel efficient vehicles and encourage more to use transit. Which is exactly why we need a more effective funding source than the gas tax.

—Secretary Peters
VMT moving 12-month total on all roads. Click to enlarge.

Federal fuel taxes—18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel—fund the federal Highway Trust Fund.

The Secretary noted that data show mid-size SUV sales were down last month 38% over May of last year; car sales, which had accounted for less than half of the industry volume in 2007, rose to 57% in May. She said past trends have shown Americans will continue to drive despite high gas prices, but will drive more fuel efficient vehicles consuming less fuel. Roads will still be congested, she said, while gas tax revenues decline even further.

As positive as any move toward greater fuel efficiency is, we need to make sure we have the kind of sustainable funding measures in place to support needed highway and transit improvements well into the future.

—Acting Federal Highway Administrator Jim Ray




If miles traveled are down, doesn't that mean (i) fewer road-mile-hours at or over capacity, and (ii) less wear and tear on the infrastructure itself?

We're not talking about the increase in mpg, which doesn't help (i) at all and has a minimal impact on (ii). We're talking about less demand for road.

If there's less demand for road, what's wrong with funding it less?


This shows Americans are rational, which, at an individual level, they certainly are.
You might ask why are they driving less, are they giving up mid-week trips to the mall, or are they losing their jobs and commuting less - I hope it is the former.
Higher MPG cars would affect the road wear rate - assuming they were lighter than the cars they replaced - or driven more slowly.


Hi stomv....You can't decrease funding for roads at the rate of vehicle travel decrease. A major player in road degradation besides vehicle travel miles is the weather itself. While vehicle miles traveled drop, & revenues from gas taxes drop even more because people drive more efficient cars, weathering of the roads stays the same.


Hi mahonj....One way to find out if people are voluntarily cutting elective travel down or losing jobs is to look at mid-day travel vs. early morning travel percentages. I think people are losing jobs. Early morning traffic seems considerably lighter in my area.


Does rationality have anything to do with miles travelled? Is it rather due to realities such as reduced economic activities and increased fuel price?


job cuts vs. descretionary driving

On past recessions - which had sigificant job losses ('91/92, 2001), this graph shows no great change in the trend. From ~2005, and certainly late 2007 & 2008, this shows a dramatic change in choices. It would be more helpful if the plot went back to 1970 (showed the 1973 and '79/80 time periods) Other data I have seen on those time-periods showed a dramatic reduction in fuel use.


I know I've noticed less traffic, even during Rush Hour. I've been carpooling, and when I can't do that, I ride my scooter. Can't say I've reduced my economic activity all that much beyond that. Vacation coming up soon...



Yes. More troll booths would reduce spurious comments and raise R&D funds.


wow, instead of saying how the shift to transit shows that we need to be funding transit and highway alternatives more, she draws the conclusion that we need to find a different funding formula to keep up highway funding.



Three things:
Consuming less gasoline, and thus importing less petroleum is an end in itself. Only a gas tax reflects the external costs of being reliant on foreign oil (except maybe an import tariff, which would simply be a gas tax further upstream).

If you want 30% more funding for federal highway maintenance, you could add all of 5.5 cents onto the cost of a gallon of gas... driving it up from (as I write this) $3.88 to $3.93. Would you really care that much?

For those who suggest tolls, why should I pay as much in my 1000kg Civic as you do in your 3000kg Yukon, when you do about 27 times as much damage to the road as I do? Why should I subsidize road maintenance for people who drive much heavier vehicles? (Damage to roadway goes up at the cube of the axle weighting). Tolls also cause congestion and more people idling on the highway (I live near the Delaware toll on I95, and see 5 miles of stop&go for 7 hours a day, which KILLS gas mileage, which goes back to point I).


Go to the Bureau of Statistics, they data from the 70s to now on price and VMT.


Here is the link for those with an inquiring mind..

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