Urban Driving Loss Moderated in April: Intercity Decline Expands

New data from the US Department of Transportation indicates that driving in urban areas declined only 1.0 percent in April 2008 compared to April 2007. This is despite the continuing increase in gasoline prices.

The April figure compares to the 3.8 percent decline in March relative to the previous year.

Inter-city driving volumes appear to be suffering the largest declines. In April, traffic on urban interstate highways (motorways or autoroutes) was down 5.2 percent from the previous year. This is more than 4 times the decline in urban driving.

As was noted in a previous entry, the press has been filled with stories to the effect that people are abandoning their cars for mass transit. In the first quarter, transit replaced no more than 3 percent of the decline in urban travel by car. This is a simple consequence of convenient mass transit service not being available for the overwhelming majority of urban trips. With an urban market share of below 2 percent, it would take a 50 percent increase in transit market share to accomodate a 1 percent decline in urban travel by car. Outside the New York metropolitan area, the increase would need to be 100 percent, because of the much smaller market share.

In the longer run, it is likely that driving will stablize as households switch to more fuel efficient vehicles. In the first six months of the year, there appears to have been a nearly 1 mile per gallon increase in the fuel economy of new cars and SUVs sold in the United States compared to the previous year.