VMT ticks up again in 2019

Driving mileage in the United States climbed by just under 0.9 percent in 2019. On a per capita basis, the increase was just under 0.6 percent. The VMT figures come from FHWA’s latest Travel Volume Trends release.

VMT moderates after recession-driven swings

U.S. vehicle-miles traveled, which had declined during the recession and then spiked, returned to a more normal level in 2018. According to FHWA’s Travel Monitoring Trends data, total VMT grew by 0.4 percent in 2018. That rate was slower than population growth, resulting in a slight decline in VMT per capita.

Back to the new normal? Post-recession VMT uptick wanes

In the second half of the 20th century it was pretty easy to predict how much driving Americans would do. Vehicle-miles traveled rose steadily year-by-year, with only temporary blips around fuel shortages or recessions. In the 21st century, the pattern has been much harder to discern. The growth of VMT first slowed, then actually went into reverse during the recession. After the recovery took hold, VMT growth spiked to 20th century levels. And now, with FHWA’s VMT totals available through the first half of 2018, it appears the post-recession spike is over, and VMT is returning to a slow-growth pattern.

Travel time peaked in the 1990s, new research shows

Americans spent more than 10 hours per week traveling in the early 1990s—the highest amount in two decades—but that number has since dropped below 1975 levels to less than 8.5 hours, according to a new study published in Transportation Research Part A. The resulting travel time peak, mirrors a similar peak in average vehicle miles traveled that occurred roughly a decade later. This earlier peak, however, suggests that important shifts in travel behavior were already underway well before the recession took hold around 2007.

Cities and developers are preparing for a world with less parking

Chandler, AZ, may be the first city to recognize that apartment dwellers will need less parking in the future. In anticipation of autonomous vehicles, the city is changing its zoning code to loosen parking minimums in new buildings. Developers welcome such flexibility, as building parking can be expensive and AVs and other emerging technologies, such as ridesharing and bikesharing, are reducing the need for tenants to own personal cars.

Millennials are driving more, but only those making the least money

The new 2017 National Household Travel Survey gives us our first look at changing travel habits since the recession. From what we can tell, the average American drives less in 2017 than eight years earlier. Driving also seems to have increased considerably among Millennials—but mostly among those with the lowest incomes—bucking expectations. The results may indicate that those with higher incomes are now choosing to live where they need to drive less.

Household car travel dropping steadily

Update: Our original post noted a major decrease in household vehicle miles traveled from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey to the 2017 survey. Due to methodological changes from year-to-year, we’re looking deeper into the new data to validate any apparent trends in travel behavior.
Until we can validate the methodology and numbers, we have removed the post. 

VMT growth continued, slowed in 2016

The total number of vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. grew by 2.8 percent to 3.2 trillion in 2016, according to monthly estimates from USDOT. This marks the third year of notable growth following nine years of historical lows, but still shows slower growth than in the previous year (3.5 percent, based on the most recent numbers).

Urban truck traffic growing far faster than urban population growth

Urban truck traffic has boomed alongside the rise in e-commerce. As shown in a recent Brookings Institution blog post, while both urban truck and passenger VMT have been growing faster than urban populations since the 1960s, urban truck traffic diverged from urban car travel in the early 1990s and exploded between 2006 and 2008 before a slight dip during the recession. Thanks to this growth, total single unit (box) truck VMT became majority urban in the early 2000s, and combination (tractor-trailer) truck VMT is likely to become majority urban in the coming years.