Lower Gas Prices Don't Inspire More Driving
Apologists for business-as-usual in the car game often took to blaming unnaturally high gas prices for last year’s trends towards smaller car sales and fewer vehicle miles traveled. When gas prices go back down, went the argument, Americans will go right back to buying thirsty SUVs and Crossovers and driving more miles. Not true, it seems. The New York Times reports that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has declined for 14 months in a row now, despite the fact that gas prices are now hovering at about half of their peak levels from last June. “When the decline in American driving was first identified in late 2007, fuel prices were beginning to increase. The prevailing wisdom at the time was that the drop was due to increased fuel prices,” says Doug Hecox of the Federal Highway Administration which monitors traffic on America’s roads. The FHA estimates that VMT has declined by 115 billion miles in the period between November 2007 and December 2008.
Economic decline is being blamed for the driving decline as recession was likely setting in around the same time that gas prices started to increase. The American Public Transportation Association shows a steady increase in public transportation ridership since the beginning of 2008, particularly in the first three quarters of 2008, when 3.42 to 6.52 percent more Americans took the bus. Ridership actually declined in the fourth quarter of 08 as job loss took its toll on public transportation riders, 58 percent of whom depend on the service to get to work. And despite having had one non-causal explanation for lower driving (high fuel prices) levels debunked, the FHA is running with the latest non-causal explanation predicting that Americans will rush back to their cars as soon as the recession is “over.” “When people have a job to go to,” says Hecox, “the decline in American driving may fade into the nation’s rear-view mirror.” Unless it doesn’t. In which case a new easily-understood reason is sure to emerge. Meanwhile, what happens if people get used to not depending on cars?
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I know a lot of people are just waiting for gas prices to jump back up and are not believing that the current gas prices will be a long term trend. That would go a long way to explaining why cars (when they do sell) are selling more than a large truck or SUV that is no longer needed.
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