Whatever happened to "Peak Car"?

miles traveled
© Doug Short

Remember Peak Car? That's where we wrote that "young people are not as interested in driving as previous generations were." That "From 2006 to 2011, the average number of miles driven per resident fell in almost three-quarters of America’s largest urbanized areas." We would keep showing these graphs of estimated vehicle miles driven and they kept falling. Now Mike noted earlier that Americans were beginning to drive more, and quoted a Washington Post article that "there is little chance that the transportation network can keep pace with that growth."

And indeed, the latest graph of Estimated Vehicle Miles Traveled shows an uptick for the first time since we started showing it- to the level of driving in the year 2000. Joe Cortright at Streetsblog notes that it would take "a decade of growth at the current rate of expansion just to get back to the level of driving of 2004." Cortright wonders:

Highway advocates have predictably seized on the uptick in driving to claim that we need to throw a lot more money at road widening projects. Does the upsurge in driving really signal an end to the millennial abandonment of motoring? Is there a renewed “love affair” with automobile?

He thinks not, and quotes some other experts:

The very sharp Doug Short at Adviser Perspectives, argues, for example, that “the correlation is fairly weak over the entire timeframe.” Similarly analysts at the State Smart Transportation Institute argued that: “There is no clear evidence that fuel prices have distinctly influenced driver behavior during the past decade”

Car sales© Edmunds.com

I don't know. Cheap gas is a powerful incentive to do more driving and it can't last. Of course TreeHugger also trumpeted Peak Oil for a decade and look what happened there, we are awash in the stuff. Car sales are up too, as people finally have the post-recession confidence (and the high repair bills on cars that are now averaging 11.4 years old) to buy new ones.

sales weighted © Michael Siwak

And they are buying guzzlers; the sales-weighted fuel economy is dropping. When gas is so cheap, why not? And what this all means in a world where we should all be decarbonizing like mad is another story altogether. Sigh.

Tags: Peak Oil | Transportation

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