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Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Driving Decline Reaches Record
Despite a drop gas prices, drivers recorded 9 billion fewer miles on the nation's roads in October, suggesting the driving downturn that began a year ago is caused by more than just energy costs.
Recently released Federal Highway Administration data reveals the number of miles driven dropped 3.5 percent in October compared with the same month in 2007. Between November 2007, when the driving decline commenced, and October, U.S. drivers logged 100 billion fewer miles. The nation has never experienced a larger continuous decline in driving.
According to the Energy Information Administration, gas prices averaged $3.15 a gallon in October, down from a high of $4.09 in July.
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said, "The fact that the trend persists even as gas prices are dropping confirms that America's travel habits are fundamentally changing."
The data show that a block of eight states and Washington, D.C. - the South Atlantic - experienced the largest decline in October of any region, 5 percent fewer vehicle miles. The 8.4 percent driving decline in Montana was the largest of any state, followed by Utah with 7.4 percent, and South Carolina with 6.7 percent.
The driving data is collected by highway administration from more than 4,000 automatic traffic recorders operated around-the-clock by state highway agencies.
Subways, buses, commuter rail and light-rail systems have reported record increases in ridership since the driving decline began. The nation's intercity passenger railroad, Amtrak, said it transported the highest number of passengers and brought in the most revenue during fiscal 2008 in its 37-year history.
David Goldberg, a spokesman for Transportation for America, a coalition of groups pressing for more alternatives to driving, said the economic crisis is likely an important factor in the driving decline.
"We regularly see fewer trips being made in economic downturns," Goldberg said. "I think when we probe these numbers we'll find that a lot of people have figured out how to telework or how to go into the office fewer days. And having experienced that and made that work, I think they'll continue to save the money and the time and effort and reduce some of those trips."
Peters expressed concern that the decline in driving is creating a gap between federal gas tax revenues and the government's commitments to fund state and local highway construction and repair projects. To cover an expected shortfall in the fund, Congress made an emergency infusion of $8 billion earlier this year from the general treasury.
"As driving decreases and vehicle fuel efficiency continues to improve, the long-term viability of the Highway Trust Fund grows weaker," Peters said.
According to federal safety officials, auto fatalities dropped almost 10 percent in 2008 through October, a trend that is no doubt influenced by the driving decline.
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