The Traffic Group

If You Think We Are Driving Less…Guess Again!

A decline in vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. per person between 2005 and 2014 was thought to be a dramatic shift in the transportation preference of the workforce. While this shift coincided with the recession and an increase in gas prices, many in the transportation industry believed it was about a generational change.

After a long plateau, vehicle miles traveled in the United States has, once again reached a new height to 3.1 billion vehicle miles in mid-2014 (source: United States Federal Highway Administration).

The impression that things were changing seems to have been a rush to judgment that simply did not occur. Between 2005 and 2014, there were seven times more new commuters driving alone, known as single occupancy vehicles (SOV), to work than new transit riders at the national level.

America’s top ten transit cities account for 47% of the U.S. transit commuters but those top ten cities only account for 7% of the United States workforce.

So, while transit increased in the top ten cities on the east coast, west coast, and in Chicago, the number of commuters driving SOVs increased by 8.8 million, more than 12 times as much as the transit use increase. The 8.8 million new SOVs that are on our roads will probably be joined by just as many in the next ten years, meaning traffic congestion will only get worse. Even among the young, the vast majority of American workers drive alone to work.

Today’s transit cities are expensive to live in and still remain difficult to build in. Even cities like San Francisco, where parking is not required and completely discouraged, the cost of living in San Francisco is among the highest in North America – pricing many out altogether and pushing them into areas that require a car.

In Washington DC, where the change in transit commuters was up 31% between 2005 and 2014, is seeing a decrease in ridership in 2015, attributed to the condition of the Washington DC Metro System. Also in Washington DC, the transit share of total trips is starting to decline even more significantly, even though there is an increase in population. This shift is attributed to those who bike or walk to work and work from home. In Baltimore and in Los Angeles, the share of people driving alone to work increased just slightly because of reduced carpooling. Remember, the cost of gasoline has dropped significantly.

It appears that in the near term, at least, commuters will continue to drive to work, many in single occupant vehicles, despite the efforts to increase mass transit use and carpooling.