Changing US Car Purchase Preferences Improve Fuel Economy, GHG Emissions

Fuel prices have induced the purchase of more fuel efficient vehicles in the United States. This is the Demographia finding from an analysis of the 10 most popular automobiles and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), as reported by Ward’s Automotive.

In the first 6 months of 2008, the average fuel economy of these 20 vehicles was 23.7 miles per gallon. This is an improvement of nearly 4 percent from 2007. Over the period, the share of SUVs among these vehicles fell from 51 percent to 44 percent.

If this improvement is reflective of overall buying patterns and continues, this change in consumer preference alone would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States by approximately 43,000,000 metric tons per year.

See: US Consumer Choice in Automobiles

Car Use Expands in San Francisco Bay Area at 3-Times National Rate

Car travel in the San Francisco Bay is rising rapidly, at more than three times the national rate per capita. Data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission indicates that from 2000 to 2007, total daily vehicle miles traveled increased from 140,100,000 to 152,100,000. Per capita driving increased from 20.6 miles to 22.2 miles, an increase of 7.6 percent.

By comparison, the national increase in driving per capita over the same period was 2.1 percent.

United States Bureau of the Census data shows that the San Francisco Bay Area has slipped into laggard growth, having added only 0.3 percent to its population annually. This is a slower growth rate than Italy. The Bay Area has become one of the nation’s slowest growing areas, at least partially due to huge increases in housing costs.

See: San Francisco Bay Area Travel Data

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.

Ville de Paris to Allow Skyscrapers?

The ville de Paris government has decided to consider allowing skyscrapers, after a more than 30 year bad (precipitated by the Darth Vaderite Tour Montparnasse).

On one hand, such a move could, in the long run, seriously retard the attractiveness of Paris as a tourist site --- the city, especially the core, is itself a museum. On the other hand, allowing the building market to develop what the customer market seeks can only make the ville de Paris more competitive in its metropolitan region, the Ile-de-France. The ville de Paris has taken serious losses in employment in the last two decades, as companies have increasingly moved or been established in the suburbs.

However, Paris will continue to have a serious competitive disadvantage with the artificial traffic constraints that have made parts of the ville a recurring traffic jam, as traffic lanes have been taken from general traffic use, in favor of buses, which have seen virtually no material increase in ridership.

High Rises in the Ville de Paris?


Gas Price Increase in Context

Much of the increase in gasoline costs in the United States is simply the result of a weakening dollar.

If the dollar had retained its value relative to the Euro as of January 1, 2002, the price of gasoline would be approximately $2.25 per gallon today (assuming a present price of $4.00).

The strength of the Euro has shielded Europe from the huge gas price increases experienced in the United States. Gas prices are up, but by far less in percentage terms than in the US.

China to the G-8?

It would seem reasonable for the G-8 to be expanded to include the world's second largest national economy - China.

Moreover, it would be useful to extend the invitation before China itself becomes the "G-1," by virtue of its explosive growth.


Responding to Mayor Hanneman’s Personal Attack

It is hard to recall a more foolish expenditure than that made by Mayor Mufi Hanneman of the city and county of Honolulu in a campaign of personal invective against me.

The Situation

Here is the remarkable story.

1. The Honolulu Advertiser published a letter from the mayor in which he noted Honolulu's superior carbon footprint rating as reported in a Brookings Institution report. In the letter he made a positive reference to the proposed Honolulu urban rail project, which he supports (Note 1, below).

2. When I became aware of the letter, I sent a "tongue in cheek" letter to the editor on the subject of Honolulu's carbon footprint, the point of which was to note that Honolulu's rating was both deserved and not deserved. I implied that Honolulu would not have scored so well if it had been founded on Michigan's Upper Peninsula (where much colder conditions would require far more energy for heating, and thus more CO2 emissions). I also gave Honolulu credit for its high transit market share, which despite having no rail has often equaled or exceeded the market shares of all urban areas in the nation, except for New York. My letter suggested that this favorable situation was not likely to be made any better by building the urban rail system (Note 2, below).

The Over-Reaction

The latter casual (though correct) comment in a letter not principally about urban rail led the Mayor to take out near-full page ads in two metropolitan newspapers on Sunday, June 22. The ad was run again on Monday in one of the newspapers. This costs money. The ads were directed in part at me, but also were highly critical of local rail system opponents. In a sense I suppose that I should take pride that the Mayor is so terrified that I might bring my analysis of his rail system to Honolulu.

Cause for Concern

I have no interest in responding to the Mayor’s ad hominem attacks.

Prudent public policy is often trumped by what the Germans call "realpolitic" (policy based on power rather than the public good). Indeed, when proponents of megaprojects stoop to ad hominem attacks it often tends to mask feeble analysis and facts that do not justify the large expenditures. However, it is the facts, not the personalities that matter. Personalizing the debate makes does nothing to make a questionable project less questionable.

The mayor's over-reaction at the prospect of my entering the policy debate should give pause. Local Honolulu analysts have already pointed out the grim reality --- that this extravagant rail line is likely to require more of a share of metropolitan area income than any in US history --- and by a long shot. One can only hope that the citizens of the city and county of Honolulu will have an opportunity to decide this issue at the ballot box, rather than having substantial tax increases imposed without their consent.

Wendell Cox
Principal, Demographia (St. Louis)
Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris
Member, Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (1977-1985)
Member, Amtrak Reform Council (1999-2002)

Note 1:


No. 1 Ranking Report Confirms City Going in Right Direction

The new Brookings Institution report that ranked Honolulu No. 1 out of 100 U.S. cities for our low carbon emissions was great news, but we will not be content to rest on our laurels.

We're moving forward aggressively on many important initiatives to further protect our environment and enhance our quality of life.

Our rail transit project is exactly what's needed to provide key improvements cited by the study to reduce pollution: Promote more transportation choices and transit-oriented development.

The study found that cities with rail mass transit systems and densely populated urban cores have far smaller "carbon footprints" per capita than sprawling metropolitan areas dependent on private vehicles. Our rail system will give thousands of commuters and visitors an alternative to private vehicles and clogged freeways, while providing important opportunities for new housing, commercial space and public facilities along the rail line.

Our 21st Century Ahupua'a Plan closely examined other environmentally friendly policies, and they are now reaching fruition. We're continually expanding curbside residential recycling, replacing buses and police cars with efficient hybrid vehicles, increasing the capacity of the H-Power garbage-to-energy plant, operating ferries from Kalaeloa to Aloha Tower and adding bicycle lanes to our roadways.

A few will always nit-pick when good news is announced, but we're confident that the Brookings report provided an honest assessment of Honolulu's ranking and made it clear that we are moving in the right direction with rail transit and other important initiatives. Our goal remains to leave Honolulu better than we found it.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann
City and County of Honolulu

Note 2


To the Editor
The Honolulu Advertiser

The Mayor boasts about Honolulu's superior carbon footprint and some boasting is appropriate.

It is no surprise that Honolulu has one of the smaller transportation footprints in the nation. With its bus system, Honolulu often ranks second in the nation in transit market share to the New York area. It is hard to imagine that the proposed, expensive rail system will make that any better.

As for residential energy, had the city founders instead chosen a location on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, things would look much worse. Honolulu's modest residential carbon footprint is a function of Hawaii's marvelous climate, which reduces energy demand substantially.

Wendell Cox
Principal, Demographia, St. Louis