It just so happens I heard on one network T.V. news broadcast (most likely last year at the beginning of December) that during the end of 2015 for the holiday season that 100 million Americans – almost one-in-three U.S. citizens – were expected to be traveling. At the time it was estimated that between Dec. 18 and the first of the New Year, 91.3 million Americans would take to the roads, 5.3 million to the skies, the difference, or 3.4 million, traveling via various other means. Of course, some overlapping of mode use is to be expected here. And, that’s just for the end-of-year travel picture.
With the nation’s unemployment rate weighing in at somewhere around 5 percent at 2015’s close, this should suggest an economy much recovered from that of the height of the Great Recession when the percentage of those unemployed reached into the double digits.
Over the entire 2015 year, that driving in America hit an all-time record high of 3.148 trillion cumulative miles, this is what one would expect during times of economic stability. Expected also is a rise in transit ridership over that in 2014, but, admittedly, this did not happen.
The American Public Transportation Association reported, “Americans took 10.6 billion trips on public transportation in 2015, the third highest annual ridership in ten years, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Compared to public transit ridership in 2014, there was a small overall decline among all modes of 1.3 percent.” The presumption here is that “all modes” in this particular instance refers to “all transit modes.”
“In 2015 the average price of a gallon of gasoline was $2.52, which was 92 cents (26.7%) lower than in 2014. … Research conducted by APTA shows that on the average, every 10 percent decrease in gas prices leads to a 1.8 percent decrease in public transportation ridership,” the APTA acknowledged.
Possibly contributing to transit ridership decline also were increased fares, according to the APTA in its Mar. 31, 2016 “Americans Took 10.6 Billion Trips on Public Transportation in 2015” press release.
The big news story in 2015 was the expiration of the then present transportation bill, replaced by a long-term transportation-funding allocation in the amount of $305 billion, the bulk of it or $266 billion to be designated for bridges and roads over a period lasting six years in all. (See: “U.S. driving rebounds and what could be best going forward”).
Additionally, new light has been shed recently on motor vehicle fuel economy.
In “U.S. driving popular way back when, even more so now,” highlighted is real-world-driving average-vehicle-mileage ratings. In 2014, an average motor vehicle fuel economy rating of 24.3 miles per gallon was attained, reaching a zenith of 25.8 mpg that year in August. This fell to 25.2 mpg by Jan. and Feb. 2016, according to Bill Vlasic in a New York Times article.
Strictly from an air-quality-savings standpoint, compounding this issue is a point Vlasic raised in the Times story and that is that fewer and fewer zero-emissions and partial zero-emissions (hybrid) vehicles, comparatively speaking, are being purchased; these are the ones putting out the lowest or no emissions. Meanwhile, the Electric Drive Transportation Association has made available on its Web site sales numbers (data) regarding Hybrid-Electric Vehicles (HEVs), Plug-in Hybrid-Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and Extended Range Electric Vehicles (EREVs), as well as Battery-Electric Vehicles (BEVs) here.
Besides the normal fare, it appears as though attractions, concepts, designs like Hyperloop and self-driving automobiles are on the way. It is important to note, however, that these prototypical approaches right now are little more than “experiments,” despite their gaining in popularity what with the tremendous media hype they’ve received.
What is ready for prime time, on the other hand, is magnetically levitated transport (maglev, for short); its day definitely here.
The two maglev systems outside Asia right now in the proposal/planning or building phases are the approximate 50-miles-in-length, proposed Baltimore-Washington, D.C., high-speed maglev and a second, low-speed version due to connect two public Sunshine State places (Orlando International Airport/International Drive and the Orange County Convention Center) on elevated infrastructure eight miles long, in progress, that is, barring a work-stoppage order. Its builder is Georgia-based American Maglev Technologies.
On the high-speed rail front, these are common in Asia and Europe. Even Africa has one – Gautrain. But, as a mainstream transportation platform in the U.S., such has yet to take a foothold.
Already under construction is the California high-speed-rail project (800 miles in all, to connect San Francisco, Los Angeles and Anaheim with San Diego and Sacramento). Meanwhile, a higher-speed (in the 110-125 miles-per-hour range) railway endeavor, this time in Florida, is the in-the-works Miami-to-Orlando, Brightline, known formerly as All Aboard Florida.
Beyond this, as of late there has been considerable momentum building in group rapid transit (GRT)/personal rapid transit (PRT) people-mover systems employed for airport use, mainly.
What next year’s traffic and travel profile reveals is anyone’s guess. One can always hope that progress made will be much.
Middle image above: W. R. Howell, Jr.