Thursday, August 14, 2008

More Decreases In US Driving

Reuters is reporting that Americans have scaled back their driving for the 8th straight month. The miles traveled in June are estimated to be 12.2 BILLION miles fewer than the same month a year earlier or a nearly 5% reduction of total miles traveled.  This has essentially "erased 5 years of growth".

In Idaho the drop appears to be in line as the State's fiscal year 2008 fuel tax revenue dropped around 2.4%. The month by month numbers probably look more dramatic.

I have a few observations here. First is that the market system works. Higher prices do decrease demand.  This is one reason I have always supported a fuel tax to fund more effective and less polluting forms of transportation.  Even with prices at their current levels, I still believe a fuel tax increase is warranted.

Second, I have been hearing for years that a reduction like this is not possible. People say, I can't decrease due to to where I live, where I work, etc. The high prices have shown that there are significant although sometimes painful trade offs available. This reduction is actually closing in on Kyoto targets.

Third, I hope that these higher prices will start causing significant lifestyle changes and not just temporary ones. I hear some people talking as if these prices are just temporary. Significant shifts that would cause other positive effects would be decreased demand to live in the suburbs, increase housing density, increased interest in public transportation, carpooling, bike commuting, more efficient cars, etc.   Higher housing density is more efficient in natural resource consumption, increases the ROI on public transit, decreases capital investment required for bigger and bigger roads, etc.  Of course, it would have been 10 times easier to build transit infrastructure during the good times than it will be when everyone's finances are pinched, but that would have required some leadership from our state government which has been significantly lacking for years.

Here's to another 5% reduction in the next year!

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