Sunday, 28 August 2011

Declining car usage in the West: more evidence.

A previous post Has road traffic in the west peaked? pointed to emerging data on the peaking of traffic and so I was interested to see in a recent article The end of the road by Fred Pearce, New Scientist 13 August 2011 (p.26-7) that more evidence of this trend is available:

  • In the USA sales of new cars has fallen from 11 million in  1985 to 5.5 million in 2009.(The cars do, however, last longer.)
  • In Japan, where they talk of demotorisation’, per-capita road travel peaked in the 1990s.
  • In the USA, UK, Germany, France, Australia and Sweden the per-capita road travel began to decline in 2004 and this has continued to the present.
  • The fraction of American 17-year olds with a drivers licence has dropped by about 25% since 1998.
  •  In both the USA and the UK young people are seeing the biggest decline in car usage.(Social scientists detect a new ‘culture of urbanism’, with the young shunning the suburbs and preferring to spend their money on other things than cars.)
  •  The correlation between rising income and per capita car travel breaks down when income exceeds $30,000 p.a.  (Could this be because the affluent prefer to spend their money on flying?)
Offsetting this decline in road distance travelled per person the rate of car occupancy has fallen. In the USA  the average car on the average journey carries 1.7 people, compared to 2.2 in 1970. Also, anecdotally, I have noticed that cars are getting bigger and more powerful. Frequently, I have to park between two private vehicles each the size of a commercial van, often just carrying one person. The article backs this up.

Sources quoted in the  article:

The road... less traveled, 2008 report by the Brookings Institution, Washington DC
World transport policy and practice vol.17, p.31
Transport Reviews, Lee Schipper, vol.31, p.357
Phil Goodwin at the University of West England, Bristol
Maurie Cohen, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark

In the developing world, especially China and India, private car usage is of course expanding fast.  Hopefully, at some time not too far off, new ways of getting from A to B flexibly will be found.

See also Has the US reached peak car? (Sci. Amer.)

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Author, 2077 AD