Skip to content

Posts from the "VMT" Category

No Comments

Study: All Across America, Car Commuting Is Dropping

Driving is declining and non-driving transportation is increasing in urbanized areas. Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

Since 2000, car commuting has dropped across the board while other forms of travel have tended to increase in America’s 100 biggest urban areas. Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group are on a mission to explore the downward trend in driving. In a series of reports, they point to evidence that it isn’t just a temporary blip, but a long-term shift in how Americans get around. Today, the two organizations released a new report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities,” which shows that these changes are happening in regions all over the country.

In 99 of the nation’s 100 largest regions — the cities and suburbs that are home to more than half the U.S. population — fewer people got to work in a private vehicle in 2010 than in 2000. In the vast majority of those areas, households are shedding cars while more people are getting on the bus and taking up biking. These 100 regions are the engines of the U.S. economy and where most of the nation’s population growth is happening.

Since state DOT data collection leaves much to be desired, PIRG and Frontier Group encountered some situations where they couldn’t do an apples-to-apples comparison. As a result, they examined vehicle miles traveled trends in only 74 of the 100 largest urbanized areas. In 54 of those, VMT had dropped. Across the country, mileage is down 7.6 percent per capita since 2004.

“Each city has a different story,” U.S. PIRG’s Phineas Baxandall said in an email. “Sometimes the stories are hard to see because the data is messy, but the overall picture suggests real changes in how people get around.”

The report kicks off with a lovely tale about one city’s fight to keep a highway from destroying downtown:

When Madison, Wisconsin, was given the opportunity to bring the interstate into the city in the 1960s, local officials decided to keep its downtown highway-free — they believed that a highway running through Madison’s narrow downtown isthmus would make the city less attractive. But without the Interstate, city officials needed to make sure that residents had access to other modes of transportation to travel down-town. So city planners sought to build a multimodal transportation network that promoted bicycling, public transit and walking.

And guess what? Those investments are still paying off. As attitudes about transportation and urban living shifted over the past decade and more people decided to explore life outside the automobile, Madisonians had lots of good options to choose from. On average, each city resident drove 18 percent fewer miles in 2011 than in 2006 — from 8,900 miles down to 7,300. Meanwhile, biking to work soared 88 percent in the last 11 years, and bus ridership is way up.

U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group encourage other places to follow Madison’s lead. Madison started investing in multi-modalism in the 1960s and 70s, when driving was still ascendant. Today, as Americans embrace transit and active transportation in greater numbers, driving declines, and new roads become increasingly poor investments, those same strategies should seem like ordinary common sense.

Read more…

43 Comments

Congestion Pricing: Vital for Funding a Sustainable Transpo Future in SF

This post supported by

Third Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Take a shot at budgeting San Francisco’s future transportation revenue with the new online “Budget Czar” simulator from the SF County Transportation Authority, and it will quickly become clear: If residents want better transit and safer streets for walking and biking over the next 25 years, the city needs to collect new sources of transportation revenue in a way that effectively reduces motor vehicle congestion.

The SFCTA anticipates having $64 billion to spend over the next 25 years, with 80 percent ($52 billion) going to maintain the existing state of street and transit infrastructure — “not nearly enough to meet projected needs,” the agency said in a statement. With $9 billion already committed to projects in the works, that leaves just $3.14 billion left to devote to projects like pedestrian safety upgrades, a network of protected bikeways, and increased transit service — improvements that the SFCTA believes are in high demand from the public. By seeing how residents would budget that $3.14 billion in the “Czar” simulator, the SFCTA says it hopes to get a better picture of how to prioritize transportation projects in the 25-year San Francisco Transportation Plan, expected to be adopted next spring.

“We need to critically think about, ‘What are some of the best sources of revenue?’” said Egon Terplan, regional planning director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). “One of the really important functions of the Transportation Plan is to put that on the table, and to say, ‘What projects do you want as a city and county? And if you want more investment in transportation projects than we likely have money for, are you willing to pay for it?’”

As funding sources like gas taxes and federal grants shrink, population growth in the Bay Area means the SFCTA expects as many as 412,000 more daily car trips clogging the city’s streets and highways by 2035. But that scenario can be averted if San Francisco institutes a congestion pricing system that provides incentives for drivers to avoid adding to traffic jams while funding improvements to make transit, bicycling and walking more attractive.

Read more…

11 Comments

California’s Pay as You Drive Insurance Program Could Reduce Driving

The California Department of Insurance has approved a pay-as-you-drive insurance program encouraged by environmental advocates and transportation planners because it provides an incentive to drive less by reducing premiums for low-mileage drivers. Widespread adoption of similar insurance policies could reduce driving in the U.S. by as much as eight percent, according to a Brookings Institution study.

“The voluntary pay-as-you-drive initiative is an innovative program that will allow insurers to offer plans based on more accurate mileage, so that people who choose to drive less will pay less for auto insurance,” California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said recently when he announced the program with the participation of State Farm Insurance and the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Though other insurance companies, notably Progressive Insurance, have experimented with pay-as-you-drive policies, because of the large number of drivers in California and the scale of the program, it could have national significance.

State Farm — the state’s largest automobile insurance company with 3.3 million policy holders and premiums of $2.5 billion — had previously required mileage to be self-reported by customers, who then got a small discount if they drove less than 7,500 miles in a year. Starting in late February, State Farm will offer an initial 5 percent discount for the first policy term to drivers who opt-in to the Drive Safe and Save program and agree to self-report their odometer readings at the beginning and end of each policy period. Policy holders with an active On Star system, which comes with many vehicles made by General Motors, can agree to allow State Farm to access their mileage data automatically.

Read more…

No Comments

Former US DOT Bosses Call for Mileage Tax and Congestion Fees

Bottlenecks cripple our productivity, and transitioning among modes of transportation remains a convoluted and inefficient process nationwide, with some major cities being the few exceptions. Concerns about the environmental impact of these inefficiencies further highlight the need for systems that offer quick, interconnected and efficient means for transportation.

It's all about getting folks home on time for dinner. ##http://thesituationist.wordpress.com/2008/06/10/the-psychological-toll-of-automobile-traffic/##The Situationist##

The Miller Center report suggests strategies to reduce vehicle trips in order to "get folks home on time for dinner." The Situationist

The message today from two Republican-appointed former Secretaries of Transportation sounds a lot like the language you hear from reform groups advocating for an overhaul of federal transportation policy.

Norman Mineta and Samuel Skinner co-chaired a conference at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs last fall. The report from that conference, issued yesterday, offers some recommendations for moving national transportation policy [PDF].

The conference report tackles the most pressing question facing the nation’s transportation system today: how to pay for much-needed maintenance and improvements. The authors are in favor of switching from a gas tax to a fee levied on vehicle miles traveled. They say technology exists to ease privacy concerns, and they want to see a VMT fee that charges more for travel during peak hours.

They also echoed the sentiments of many reformers who want to get beyond spending on shovel-ready projects, which tends to favor highways, and start choosing projects strategically. The Miller Center report applauds the potential of transportation infrastructure to provide short-term jobs, but says:

Future stimulus spending should be directed to those transportation projects that will deliver the greatest returns in terms of future U.S. competitiveness, economic growth, and jobs. Building a foundation for sustained prosperity and long-term job creation is more important than boosting short-term employment in road construction.

The authors also encourage a new way of thinking about building infrastructure: that it’s truly an investment, not an expenditure. With investments, the money comes back — and “the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should score the anticipated return on investment when it evaluates transportation spending proposals.” The report acknowledges that this is a small step, “but it would allow the government to begin evaluating projects based on their long-term benefits and to prioritize those projects that deliver the largest future returns.”

Transportation reformers looking to create a more equitable, sustainable and economically competitive system have explained that much depends on how the government would score transportation spending. As NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik Khan noted at a conference last fall, a highway expansion will look like a good investment if you measure its performance when traffic is still flowing smoothly, and a poor one if you measure after more drivers have been enticed to use the road, tying up traffic again.

25 Comments

The Moral Imperative of the BP Oil Spill: Drive 20 Percent Less

2010_JH_Flyover_June_4_3.jpgPhoto: Jonathan Henderson, Gulf Restoration Network
Editor's note: This is an essay from Jason Henderson, a Geography Professor at San Francisco State University. He was born and raised in New Orleans and spent many years exploring Louisiana's wetlands. He is currently writing a book about the politics of mobility, and frequently advocates for reduced car parking and improved bicycle space in San Francisco.

The Moratorium

After almost two months of failed attempts at "topkills," "tophats," "junkshots," "cofferdams," and "caps-on-the-diamond-cut-riser" it is evident that the BP wellhead spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico has unleashed an unprecedented catastrophe. We made a mistake in wishing away the risks of deepwater drilling. Despite protests from the oil industry, the six-month moratorium proposed by the Obama administration is clearly needed in order for the nation to have a pointed and deliberate reflection about its priorities.

As a Louisiana native I am sensitive to the disruption this moratorium might cause for the 150,000 people employed in offshore drilling and corollary services. Yet take one look at the destruction of a truly renewable and sustainable industry -- fisheries -- and think it through. The offshore oil industry just killed the commercial and recreational fishing industry, it may destroy tourism, and will kill more if we do not get drilling and environmental protection right. How many jobs will be lost because of this ecological catastrophe? And what future start-up companies or footloose firms want to move to a region that is mired in a toxic cesspool of oil? Who would want to invest in property or raise families in a region that has not carefully protected its environment and regulated polluting industries? In the long run, the moratorium gives us time to work this out, and is better for the Gulf Coast economy. It's also best for the nation.

But in the short run, a solid and comprehensive moratorium could mean roughly 1.7 million barrels a day eliminated from the US energy portfolio without any stopgap measure in place to check that demand. Far-off energy miracles in hydrogen, wind, solar, or nuclear energy will not meet the immediate demand. Instead, as Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu points out, the nation might get the 1.7 million barrels it draws from the Gulf from somewhere else.[1]

Read more...
3 Comments

Transport Economist Challenges Claim That ‘VMT Causes Growth’

The claim to a link between economic growth and vehicle mileage –
that, in other words, auto travel is essential to keeping U.S.
productivity high — remains controversial and much-debated in
transportation policy circles.

One notable recent flare-up in that debate took place on National Journal’s blog after road lobbyist Greg Cohen, referring to an October paper [PDF]
released by the Cascade Policy Institute, contended that "it’s not
simply a correlation but VMT actually causes economic growth."

Now economist Todd Litman, founder of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, has taken direct aim at the mileage-growth arguments made by Cascade’s Randall Pozdena. In a paper [PDF]
prepared for next week’s Transportation Research Board conference in
D.C., Litman charges that Pozdena’s research "misrepesents" the
relationship between prosperity and VMT "in important ways."

Litman
questions Pozdena’s conclusion, based on the below chart, that
"increasing a country’s income by 10 percent appears to increase its
use of energy by the same percentage."

vtpi_2.png(Chart: VTPI/Litman)

Note
that Pozdena equates a per-capita mileage in poorer nations with a
per-capita mileage increase in richer ones, despite data showing that
growth in car travel slows markedly once individuals reach a certain
income level. Moreover, Litman notes, America and Norway end up close
together on Pozdena’s graph even though "Norwegians actually consume
about half as much fuel per capita as U.S. residents."

Looking
exclusively at developed nations — specifically, the United States –
Litman found that per-capita productivity and VMT were negatively
correlated. Check out his graph of the state-by-state trend below:

Read more…

3 Comments

Much Ado About Nothing? New State Rules for “Pay-As-You-Drive” Insurance

10_19_09_meter.jpgI'm guessing his car insurance would be higher than mine. Photo: Clubjuggler/Flickr

Last week, State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner announced that his commission adopted new rules allowing and encouraging auto insurance companies to create "pay as you drive" (PAYD) insurance policies.  PAYD policies, which charge drivers per mile driven for their insurance, provide another financial incentive for drivers to reduce their vehicle miles traveled.  The new rules can be read here.

The state has received a spate of good press for the new rules, most of which uncritically tell readers that they can expect the new policies to be offered as soon as the end of this calendar year.

One might think that a state with a green reputation such as California would be a leader in bringing PAYD policies to its car drivers.  However, the new rules have come under fire from environmentalists who say they don't go far enough to bring about the changes that California's more green-minded drivers need.

Justin Horner, a policy analyst for the National Resources Defense Council, said in a release today, "Our auto insurance policies are sorely behind the times. No one should be fooled. The new regulations proposed today cannot be characterized as green. They are nowhere close to what is needed to help the environment or reduce global warming pollution." 

Read more...