Monday, April 22, 2013

DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven decreased 1.4% in February

by Bill McBride on 4/22/2013 03:09:00 PM

First, Brad Plumer at the WaPo has an excellent article: Why aren’t younger Americans driving anymore?

The Frontier Group has the most comprehensive look yet of why younger Americans are driving less. Public transportation use is up 40 percent per capita in this age group since 2001. Bicycling is up 24 percent overall in that time period. And this is true even for young Americans who are financially well off. Here are five big hypotheses:

–The cost of driving has gone up. ...

–The recession. This is a big one. If fewer people have jobs, fewer people will commute. ...

–It’s harder to get a license. ...

–More younger people are living in transit-oriented areas. ...

Ecological concerns play a small role too, judging from survey data: “Some young people purposely reduce their driving in an effort to curb their environmental impact.”

–Technology is making it easier to go car-free.
Although Plumer focused on younger drivers, he missed a major reason for the decline in miles driven - the aging of the population (over 55 drivers drive fewer miles)!

Note: the graphs Plumer uses from Doug Short and are per capita (population adjusted).

The Department of Transportation (DOT) reported:
Travel on all roads and streets changed by -1.4% (-3.1 billion vehicle miles) for February 2013 as compared with February 2012. Travel for the month is estimated to be 214.6 billion vehicle miles.
The following graph shows the rolling 12 month total vehicle miles driven.

The rolling 12 month total is still mostly moving sideways.

Vehicle Miles Click on graph for larger image.

In the early '80s, miles driven (rolling 12 months) stayed below the previous peak for 39 months.

Currently miles driven has been below the previous peak for 63 months - over 5 years - and still counting.

The second graph shows the year-over-year change from the same month in the previous year.

Vehicle Miles Driven YoYGasoline prices were up in February compared to February 2012. In February 2013, gasoline averaged of $3.74 per gallon according to the EIA. In 2012, prices in February averaged $3.64 per gallon.   However prices declined in March, and miles driven will probably increase even more than the usual season increase.

However, as I've mentioned before, gasoline prices are just part of the story.  The lack of growth in miles driven over the last 5 years is probably also due to the lingering effects of the great recession (high unemployment rate and lack of wage growth), the aging of the overall population (over 55 drivers drive fewer miles) and changing driving habits of young drivers.

With all these factors, it might take several more years before we see a new peak in miles driven. 

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