Americans, some of if not the world’s most mobile people, day in and day out, manage to get to where we need and/or want to go. But, does this mean mobility can’t be improved? I’m pretty sure everyone can agree that it can.
So, where are we going, how are we getting to where we need and/or want to go and can this be done more conveniently, cost effectively, efficiently, expeditiously, safely and sustainably?
The ‘what’ and the ‘how’
- From Federal Highway Administration data, in 2012, a grand total of 2.939 trillion vehicle miles were logged. This is up from 2.929 trillion miles in 2011. Average per-capita vehicle miles traveled in 2012, based on State Smart Transportation Initiative data, meanwhile, is 9,363, which is down 0.4 percent from 2011’s numbers.
- From American Public Transportation Association (APTA) data, in 2012, 10.5 billion public transit trips were taken. This is up 154 million over the previous year’s total.
- From Bureau of Transportation Statistics data, in 2012, 649,205,608 passengers flew on scheduled flights. At around 50,000 commercial flights per day the total number of yearly commercial flights works out to eighteen-and-a-quarter million.
Interestingly, for those using public transit to meet daily transportation needs, from the document: “A Profile of Public Transportation Passenger Demographics and Travel Characteristics Reported in On-Board Surveys, May 2007,” from the APTA from “Figure 14: Trip Purpose” (p. 35), the majority of trips were: work trips (59.2%), school (10.6%), shopping/dining (8.5%), social (6.8%), personal business (6.3%), other (5.7%) and medical/dental (3.0%).
From this it is reasonable to assume the trip purpose percentage breakdown for automobile travel would closely parallel that of transit.
According to Texas Transportation Institute 2012 Urban Mobility Report data, in 2011, American drivers collectively were stuck in traffic 5.5 billion hours, the average per-driver delay being 38 hours. Public transportation and aviation excluded, the nationwide delay was responsible for 2.9 billion gallons of fuel being wasted and, on a per-capita basis average yearly fuel wasted was 19 gallons. Assuming the national average per-gallon-of-gasoline cost to be $3.65, that is an extra $69.35 that is shelled out compared to motor vehicle movement being completely fluid. Factor in all motor vehicle delay all across America and it amounts to $10.585 billion going up in smoke.
And where the environment is concerned, for year 2011 there were 380 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions releases per vehicle due to congestion. Meanwhile, collectively, motor vehicle CO2 releases across the nation for the same year totaled a whopping 56 billion pounds.
Rounding out the picture, for car-dependent families or individuals, whereas half-a-century ago 10 percent of household income was a transportation expense, today on average, 20 percent is eaten up by transportation.
Changing attitudes, changing travel patterns
I can’t help but think about what it is that brought us to where we are today. History is clear.
Is this as good as it is going to get or can and should we expect better?
I know as well as anyone there has been a good deal of hype regarding robot or driverless cars. Aside from the driverless aspect what’s so great about them? Are these cars any better at putting a dent in delay or easing congestion than any other car for that matter? Some may argue they are. Assuming all the technical bugs are worked out, if every motor vehicle operating on roads today were replaced with one of driverless capability, all other conditions being the same, how much could delay be reduced by? Or, in other words, how much of a reduction in delay could be expected?
On the opposite end of the same axle is the motor-vehicle-carrying infrastructure. On such infrastructure the carrying out of better traffic management strategies are going to help, sure, as would any resolution to enable increased capacity. But even so, betterment in this area is limited.
Number two on the list in popularity and use is public transit. In the United States public transit comes in at a distant second with such trips accounting for roughly two percent of all trips taken on average. Remember, on any given day there are 250 million or so motor vehicles jockeying for roadway space.
This seems so odd, that is, the proliferation of motor vehicle and roadway use, especially when public transit use at one time was the rule, the former being the exception.
I will say this: If alternatives to driving were promoted far more than what is currently the case, and there was a better balance among all modes, aviation included in that mix, I say the delay problem is addressed. That’s my take. How to increase demand for alternatives to driving is what I see is the challenge.
To me this is about changing mode share and travel patterns all to achieve a desired result – the betterment of mobility, productivity, economic and human health and, of course, air or, improved quality of life, in other words.