People Are Sick of Driving
Maybe it's the economy, and once things pick up everyone will hop back in the Chevrolet to see the USA. Or perhaps we've finally hit "peak car" and are going to try something different now. Whichever it is, after a three-year plateau following a peak in 2005, "vehicle miles traveled" started a long decline. It's now at about the level it was in February, 1995. One effect of the drop appeared in my newspaper this morning: "BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] struggling to meet surging demand." Ridership on the Bay Area's commuter train is rising three times faster than anticipated--up about six percent over the prior year. "The recovering economy, high gas prices and growing environmental conciousness are driving record ridership on BART." The growth is so rapid that the transit district is frantically trying to come up with quick ways to improve service so as not to drive new riders away.
My favorite explanation for the decline of driving--beyond the obvious one, that everyone is joining the Club's Beyond Oil campaign--is advanced by Justin Horner at NRDC's Switchboard blog. It's a useful concept known as "Marchetti's Constant": "the reasonable idea that people will, or are really even able to, travel for only a certain amount of time per day. Marchetti says it’s an hour, regardless of your travel speed. Americans may have found that they’ve reached their own personal limit and are sick of driving, choosing less driving or alternatives if they have the option."
Graph courtesy of the St. Louis Federal Reserve