Via the always helpful Gordon Werner, I saw this CNN article about people ditching their cars en masse. Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer miles in May 2008 compared to May 2007, an amazing to me 32 miles per person fewer in that month. That’s more than a mile per person per day less than the year before. Incredible.

The fall in driving is almost entirely due to the rise in gas prices. Drivers are increasingly seeing driving as the lowest value-proposition way to get around. As the article points out, the rise transit use, carpooling, telecommutes, and walking and biking commutes is puting a squeeze on highway funds paid for by per-gallon gas taxes.

I believe locally this will play out to some major drama if ST2 does not pass next year. Already there has been pressure on local districts to raise their own funds to pay for expensive highway projects like the 520 bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacements. If ST2 doesn’t pass, expect to see more “governance reform” type initiatives aimed at getting voters in our immediate area to pay for the highway projects. With less gas tax revenue, WSDOT will have a difficult time paying for these projects.

Interestingly the video on the left when I loaded the article was about traffic falling with commuter deaths, something very few people talk about: driving is one of the most deadly forms of transportation.

8 Replies to “People Ditch Their Cars”

  1. A shorter post: “I hate cars.”

    (Disclaimer: Brad is afraid. He’s afraid his house will devalue if people have other choices of places to live. He’s afraid that gas prices will become unaffordable for him. He’s afraid he’ll lose everything. Unfortunately, he blames us – a blog – for the actions of a hundred million individuals slowly changing the way they live. Pay him no mind.)

    1. I don’t think it would be surprising if anyone here wrote an anti-car screed, but this post certainly wasn’t it. The only negative thing he said about cars is that they’re relatively unsafe, which is undeniable.

      I think the reduction in driving is a great thing for people’s quality of life and health, and the environment. Hopefully people start moving closer together where they have better options to walk, bike, or take public transit (as our blog advocates). It’s a shame that this is happening on the backs of Americans that are now struggling to get by, but I think our country is going to eventually be better for it. Our cars are going to be more efficient, our energy is going to move toward renewables, and our urban areas are going to continue to be revitalized and attractive.

      However, we can’t abandon our roads infrastructure and it’s worth discussing where the money should come from now that the gas tax is being stretched. Some people think it should some from ST’s East King surplus. What do you think, brad?

  2. Having ST 2.1 take up a chunk of the tax base would more than certainly give the Puget Sound region an out if faced with “you use it, pay for it” highway funding reforms.

    Of course, this is all “last dime” funding since we already pay for funding shortfalls through non-gas taxes, even on the federal side of things.

    TxDOT has a really good article on paying for roads: — TOW made a post about it a while back with some commentary. Can’t recall which post, but it was a good one.

    1. There are a lot of good pieces on roads paying for themselves through economic stimulus. Rail just pays for itself faster. :)

      1. Well, initial capital costs. The state of Texas is particularly gloomy (probably to make people feel the futility and pony up for the TTC, but that’s another story) and loves pointing out to people that gas tax won’t pay for roads and even dipping into the general fund won’t.

        I wonder if it’s a con-job on TxDOT’s part, though? They act completely interested in being creative about funding, but maybe they’re trying to defer people’s arguments over tolling by saying “you keep saying ‘we paid for these roads already!’ but it’s not true! Look how much WE pay just so you can drive free and easy!”

        Rail, though– yeah, that’s the fastest way to get 300k people around a region a day. Oh man, if we get ST 2.1 and ST3 up, that would put our daily capture at over BART and maybe close to MBTA!

  3. ( “The stylish little car phenomenon is largely confined to the rich suburbs of rich polities and to urban singles/students with rich parents. By itself it cannot make much difference to global gasoline/diesel fuel use. Worldwide, the vehicular fleet, on the net, is expanding by 35 million units, annually. The rate of fleet efficiency growth is swamped by the rate of fleet population growth and by the even faster rate of passenger or freight miles driven growth.”

    1. The rest of the world drives smaller, more-efficient cars not because they’re stylish or urban-chic, but because their gas is generally more expensive (or they’re less rich).

      With gas prices that they are now, the majority of people in this country are going to looking at fuel efficiency whereas they might not have paid attention as much before. The attack here at the rich, elite “other people who aren’t like me” is completely irrelevant to a nation-wide energy strategy. However, it’s not just the rich that look at fuel efficiency when purchasing a car — it’s now everyone. Everyone is interested in better fuel economy.

      But does that solve the problem that oil is a finite resource? Well, obviously not. Mass transit and new technology like plug-in hybrids are ways to move away from our dependence on oil. The solution is not to throw up our hands and start drilling for oil that won’t pump for another ten to fifteen years, or to make cars illegal in every country besides the US. The solution is not to depend on a resource that can wildly flux in price and whose worldwide supply has been dropping as a function of time (matched by an uptick in demand).

      This is one reason why electric-powered rail is so attractive, even when compared to buses.

  4. The typical adult is probably driving 1500 miles each month. So, this represents roughly a 2% decline in driving. It’s something, but it’s not a huge transformation in how people live. 32 miles is pretty typical for a single day’s round-trip commute, and certainly less than most people drive total each day.

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