For quite some time – from 2004 on, actually – the number of per-capita vehicle travel miles in America had been falling. Well, that is no longer true.
In 2014, that number rose. According to the State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI), the number jumped a modest 0.9 percent over what it was in 2013. Meanwhile, as far as total vehicle miles of travel (VMT) goes, based on Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), U.S. Department of Transportation data, the amount of increase there is 1.687 percent; what the FHWA refers to as “Cumulative Travel.” The total number of miles driven in 2014 was 3.016 trillion versus 2013’s 2.966 trillion, a difference of plus 50 billion or so miles.
The long and short of the increase probably has more to do with a recovering economy than anything else such as on account of a drop in the price of gas, the very same the SSTI appears to have concluded.
Per-capita/total VMT and emissions reduction
The trend in per-capita VMT from 2004 to 2013 was negative. Between 2013 and 2014, however, that situation reversed. Comparing this to total VMT, after peaking in 2007 (just prior to the Great Recession hitting) it too had been in general decline, that is, until 2011 when occurred the opposite.
Understand that unless there is a corresponding percentage change in the numbers of vehicles with no or low emissions on the road proportional to the amount of miles being logged, then the amount of emissions coming from this sector of surface transportation can’t help but be on the rise, too. Some of this increase, though, could be offset by the increase in public transit usage. The number of additional trips taken on public transit 2014 over 2013 was 100 million for a total of 10.8 billion compared to 2013’s 10.7 billion, an increase of approximately 0.935 percent. It should be noted that public transit modes (both road- and rail-based) add pollutant emissions to the air as do motor vehicles that rely on internal combustion for power. But, the amount of emissions contributed to the atmosphere from public transit is considerably less overall.
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in a press release reports: “Every year, 37 million metric tons of carbon emissions and 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline are saved due to use of public transportation in the United States,” and added, “APTA’s latest research shows that 41.3 percent of U.S. public transportation buses were using alternative fuels or hybrid technology as of January 1, 2014. This is in striking contrast to the 2.1 percent of automobiles using alternative-fuels in 2013. If you add in flex-fuel automobiles, the percent for automobiles is 4.2 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Outlook.”
The more the cleaner modes are utilized the better for the air.
Active transportation to play a greater role?
Walking and biking – active transportation modes – could be playing a bigger part. This is made possible by homes/jobs and homes/schools being located in relative close proximity to one another, for example, and weather that is conducive to such. This can be influenced as well by the way in which public transit and/or land is utilized.
Obviously, the more people that bike and walk and the more biking and walking done, the less dependence on motorization there is.
A month of heightened transportation discussion
For the entire month of May, the main focus has been on transportation. Everything from National Bike Month and National Transportation Week topics to the Highway Trust Fund and Map-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act) and much, much more has been covered. Transportation-wise, a busy month unquestionably.
Should there be a question whether more such talk is ahead, count on it!