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EMBARQ report points to need to reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled per capita in the US to meet emission and oil consumption targets; “sustainable VMT”

Summary of Sustainable VMT per Capita in 2050, compared to 2010 levels, under the eight scenarios analyzed in the report. Data: EMBARQ. Click to enlarge.

A report released earlier this summer by released by EMBARQ—the World Resources Institute’s Center for Sustainable Transport—found that the US must achieve significant improvements in vehicle technology and reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita to meet targeted reductions in oil consumption and greenhouse gases.

The report, “The Role of Driving in Reducing GHG Emissions and Oil Consumption: Recommendations for Federal Transportation Policy,” introduces a concept which the authors term “sustainable VMT”—an indicator of the amount of light-duty vehicle (LDV) travel per capita that can occur without compromising the goals of reducing GHG emissions and oil consumption.

The authors analyze eight transportation scenarios through 2050. Each scenario consists of one set of vehicle technology assumptions, one set of assumptions regarding either GHG emissions reductions or oil savings over time, and a corresponding projection of sustainable VMT per capita. There are two distinct sets of vehicle technology assumptions: “moderate” and “optimistic.”

The authors pairing each of four oil use and GHG emissions reduction targets with the two sets of vehicle technology assumptions to calculate the maximum change in VMT that can occur, relative to 2010, without exceeding the targeted level of oil consumption or GHG emissions. This maximum change in total VMT is then translated into sustainable VMT per capita, assuming an annual population growth rate of 0.9%.

They found that changes in VMT per capita to achieve the targets range from -77% (Early Bird GHG reductions paired with Moderate Technology changes) to +32% (Minimal Oil Imports in 2030 paired with Optimistic Technology).

In every scenario, even under optimistic technology assumptions and the less aggressive oil use and GHG emissions reductions, the United States will need to moderate per capita VMT relative to BAU projections. BAU projections predict VMT approximately 40 percent above 2010 levels in 2050. This is a plausible projection, because VMT per capita has increased by approximately 76 percent since 1970. Recently, however, the growth rate for VMT has slowed, even declining since 2005 when calculated per capita. Thus, BAU predictions may overestimate future VMT levels.

Even with the optimistic assumptions about vehicle technology, three out of four scenarios show that VMT per capita must stay at, or decrease below, 2010 levels by 2050. The exception is the Minimal Oil Imports plus Optimistic Technology scenario, under which an increase in VMT per capita (compared to 2010 levels) is possible due to a large share of vehicle electrification, which reduces oil consumption. It is important to note, however, that an increase in electric vehicles does not achieve GHG emissions reductions equivalent to the magnitude of oil use reductions unless there are near-zero emissions from the grid that fuels these vehicles.

—“The Role of Driving...”

The report also reviews evaluations of existing federal transportation programs for their impact on GHG emissions, oil use, or VMT and finds a general lack of evaluation for these metrics. For a wide variety of transportation strategies (e.g., public transit, pricing, parking management), the report finds evidence that they reduce GHG emissions, oil use, and VMT.

Our analysis illustrates that with decisive action, it is possible for the US to significantly reduce GHG emissions and oil consumption from transportation. The analysis suggests that achieving these goals will likely require both significantly improved vehicle and fuel technologies, as well as a reduction in the number of miles Americans drive. It is clear that neither technology improvements nor driving reductions are likely to be sufficient on their own, which should inform the upcoming discussion of U.S. federal transportation priorities.

—lead author Allison Bishins

To achieve GHG emissions and oil use targets, the report says, the United States should modify federal transportation policy to prioritize investments that reduce VMT, GHG emissions, and oil consumption. According to the report, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) should:

  • Encourage states and regions to boost usage of existing funding flexibility to increase investments in transportation strategies that reduce VMT, GHG emissions, and oil use;

  • Provide technical support for standardized evaluation of programs and projects; and

  • Simplify public access to DOT’s project spending databases to promote evaluation of spending patterns and encourage transparency and accountability.

Congressional reauthorization of surface transportation funding should:

  • Establish national goals for transportation, including reducing GHG emissions and oil use, and track progress toward these goals.

  • Implement performance-based funding (tied to progress toward national goals). Require or incentivize performance-based planning. Reserve or competitively distribute funding for states and regions that plan for GHG emissions reductions and/or oil savings.

  • Increase direct funding for programs and strategies that reduce GHG emissions, VMT, and oil consumption, in two ways. First, direct a larger portion of federal transportation funds toward programs that dedicate funding to, or achieve, reductions in GHG emissions, VMT, and oil use (e.g. CMAQ, SRTS, etc.) Second,

  • Directly fund transportation strategies that reduce VMT, GHG emissions, and oil use through set-asides or new programs.

Although the rate of progress in transportation technology is uncertain, these improvements are encouraged by federal incentives and standards. Similarly, the United States can ensure reductions in VMT, GHG emissions, and oil consumption by planning for and funding transportation and land use strategies that provide alternatives to driving. Transportation planning at the local, regional, and state level should incorporate strategies to reduce VMT in order to reduce GHG emissions and oil consumption.

Planners and policymakers committed to reducing oil use and GHG emissions should encourage Congress to pass a reauthorization bill that incorporates the recommendations above, the report concludes.




Future public city transport will attract more passengers with the use of partial or fully electrified 5+ doors, higher comfort, air-conditioned, 100+ passenger articulated buses together with enclosed stops equipped with pro-active information panels indicating time remaining till next bus. This info will be remotely available with any smart phones. Arrival info will be updated automatically every 30 seconds and will be correct to +/- one minute 24/7.

These quiet, easy access, improved buses will use half as many costly drivers. Users will not have to wait extended periods at bus tops. Passengers equipped with tablets (etc) will be able to read-watch local-national-international news etc from the bus network.

The bus schedule will be adjusted to requirements and all potential users and bus stops will be electronically informed.

Bus routes will be re-design to favor access to more potential passengers. Passengers should not have to walk more than a few blocks.


The IT part of that is relatively easy.
Knowing the sequence and timing of buses is very useful: if you have several buses stopping at your stop, and one bus is better than the others, you can make an informed decision as to whether to wait for it.
Your buses sound very nice, but buses are expensive and tend to be kept for a long time, and so replacement may be slow.
The way to get more people onto them is to have easy (and perhaps subsidised) ticketing, and wifi on the buses.
You have to have a carrot to get drivers onto buses, and wifi could be it.
Most people do not enjoy driving through city traffic and would take the bus if it were good enough.
You can get 80-100 cars off the road with one bus, so it can make a big difference to traffic and journey times in general.
Dedicated bus lanes also make a big difference (if you have the space or ruthlessness) for them.
I suppose people want speed more than they want wifi.


mahong...all good ideas that will progressively come about in the next twenty years or so. Yes city buses last about 15 years but changing them, 1/15 per year for articulated units, would do it in 15 years. Our city started to buy hybrid articulated buses ONLY some 3 years ago. Many selected routes are already with 100% articulated buses. No drivers strike since, many are being retired and the others want to keep their very good paying job? We already have many dedicated bus lanes (07h to 09:30h) and (16h to 18:30h) in different directions. Many IT posters are already in operation at various bus stops. Connectivity with smart phones is coming soon. Future WiMax could be very useful for Laptops and Tablets users.

An IT connection is ideal to get remote access (from home) to up-to-date arrival times at your favored bus stop. Waiting time can be reduced to one minute or less.


It currently costs more than $10 per rider in Clark County, Washington. It is even more costly for the individual pickup service. The rider pays about $1.50 and the taxpayer pays the rest. Except for during the beginning and at the end of the work day, the buses run mostly empty. Once someone starts on a tear about wasteful government (taxpayer) spending this hopefully will be one of the low-hanging fruits.

Nick Lyons

@citizen: And what, pray tell, is the taxpayer subsidy per mile of auto travel? Or of truck travel? How do you suppose the interstates were built?


"the taxpayer pays the rest."
Its not just that way for the buses. If you drive a car the taxpayer is paying more for your gas than you are and more for the roads than you are.
and it may be more than Dr. Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, thinks. The International Centre for Technology Assessment did a study back when gasoline was only $1;

Polution also adds an extra cost that you don't you pay at the pump;


Why not have the UN out law all personal travel that does not depend on renewable energy. Let's not forget the EVs charged by coal or natural gas powered electric power plants. They have to be eliminated as well. If that's not green enough back to horse and buggy transport.

That should clean the air as well as bring the world economy to a screeching halt. What would one do with all the horse turds?



And people like you accuse us of fear mongering?

Anna Maria

Nice article, thanks for the information. rental mobil


I have objections with the assumptions in this report.

The optimistic assumption is 40% new car electric powered by 2030 and 60% by 2050. I think this should be the pessimistic assumption, and should expect 85% and 98% respectively. BEV technology is improving rapidly and as soon as it becomes cost competitive the user demand and industry response will be a rapid change over. How long did it take for CDs to replace records, DVDs to replace tape, flat screen TVs to replace CRTs?

If we embrace LFTRs for power and BEVs then these goals will be met without anyone having to give up their freedom of mobility. Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors are inherently safe, do not produce any long term radio-active waste and use cheap thorium for fuel. See

Ben Frigo-Vaz

Here is a really advance and technical idea: carpool

...well I guess it gets a little complicated if we use a carpooling website to network groups of 2-6 complete strangers that have similar routes.


To compete with much lower cost products from China, India, Korea, Brazil etc., will compel many industrial countries to find much more efficient ways to:

1. transport people and cargo.
2. house/lodge our families.
3. feed our-self and family.
4. educate our children.
5. treat the sick and elderly.
6. build and maintain appropriate infrastructures.
7. impose law and order.
8. produce and transport energy.
9. produce more tax free millionaires and billionaires.
10. etc, etc.

Gone are the days when we could waste just about every thing, drive in large air conditioned boats on wheels, live in large mansions, pay our doctors $2+M/year, send our children to college at $25+K/year, eat 4,000+ Kcal/day, fight oil wars, build and maintain first class infrastructures + large armies, and maintain our high standard of living.

We have tremendous work to do for the next decades to become 300% to 500% more efficient, to become competitive and to create 50+ million jobs. Those major changes will hurt the majority for a full generation and more. Many will not be able to afford more than a $10K micro car.


9. produce more tax free millionaires and billionaires.

Yeah, I wanna be one, gimme money!


Roy_H...that will come automatically. As the poor gets poorer the rich always get richer.

Have a look at what happened in Japan in the last 12 to 15 years. We started our down slide in 2006/2007 and by 2016/2020 (and before) many of us will be looking at micro cars and smaller houses.

Chad Snyder


GM's sales are up big on SUV and truck sales last month....I"m sure the cost-effective BEV versions of those vehicles are just around the corner.

Major automakers, the government, every forecast -- none of them agree with you. But let's bet the farm.

Certainly, it would be great if such an outcome is achieved, but the US needs an energy policy that is much more prepared for the very real reality that such an outcome will not happen.

Moreover, there are very few whom believe that today's battery technologies can achieve your desired outcome based upon commodity costs alone. The bulk of today's lithium technologies have been around 30 years now and are pretty well understood.

We need to be realistic about that and plan forward intelligently. Rosy assumptions are dangerous, not productive.


Roy_H....yes we all want to become millionaires. It may be possible but their is a price to pay.

For every new millionaire you must create 20+ new poor.

To create a new billionaire you must create about 20,000+ new poor.

At the current rate, 50,000,000 + may go from middle to poor class by 2020/2025.


The dystopians are out to modify the modern human way of Life in America, once more. It won't work, it never does.

Progress that improves things is readily accepted. Rationing and reduction in life-styles are always posited, by those it won't effect at all as "..being good for you".

What utter Bilge. But the idiots never, ever learn!


The USA life style and economy are being deeply scuttled from within. Outsiders and dystopians were not required. What is even more astonishing is that the majority has not seen the lights yet. They are still walking around with their eyes and ears wide shut. Bandages and patches can only offer temporary reliefs. Deep structural changes are required to stop the widespread bleeding. Unfortunately, the majority may not be mature enough to support the changes required.


Our culture is changing – slowly - too many continue to resist.

I cannot understand why there is so much resistance to more government spending on busses, BEVs for gov workers, increased subsidies for EVs, solar, wind etc.

About 50% of the people pay no taxes. Umm?

Some 20% more work for the Gov. (Green jobs?)

Many, many more think green is good - no matter the cost.

We should be there ALREADY; we should all realize by now, like good union workers, that the game is to get as much as you can, GIVEN to you ?

Who needs to WORK, to live tax free like a millionaire or billionaire.

Over 50% already do so.

Should we abandon them? - No, of course not.

But the rest of us want more; our iphones, Priuses and big screen TVs are not enough. Our purchases made them millionaires - now we want it back.

Our free enterprise system and its lingering, undeserved good reputation is to blame.

The ONCE most powerful, rich and free society on earth has spawned (or maybe just triggered) the worldwide monetary collapse of nations that spend more than they can collect.

Ok, we may still be the most powerful, rich and free society on earth but we will cure that - we have at least one more year to do so.

Many middle class do not yet realize that they should look to the government to take from the achievers and give to them.

Education and hard work is futile.

Occupy and demand.

A physical Ed degree, a vegan diet and working out at the gym do not seem to work anymore.

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