Why Are We Driving Less?

Its not just the recession, according the Economist.

Recession and high fuel prices have markedly cut distances driven in many countries since 2008, including America, Britain, France and Sweden. But more profound and longer-run changes underlie recent trends. Most forecasts still predict that when the recovery comes, people will drive as much and in the same way as they ever have. But that may not be true…

…The current fall in car use has doubtless been exacerbated by recession. But it seems to have started before the crisis. A March 2012 study for the Australian government—which has been at the forefront of international efforts to tease out peak-car issues—suggested that 20 countries in the rich world show a “saturating trend” to vehicle-kilometres travelled. After decades when each individual was on average travelling farther every year, growth per person has slowed distinctly, and in many cases stopped altogether…

…Perhaps most basic, though, is that in terms of urban living the car has become a victim of its own success. In 1994 the physicist Cesare Marchetti argued that people budget an average travel time of around one hour getting to work; they are unwilling to spend more. For decades cars allowed this budget to go farther. But as suburbs grow and congestion increases most cities eventually hit a “sprawl wall” of too-long commutes beyond which they will not spread far. After that, it appears, a significant number of people start to move back towards the city centre. In America, where over 50% of the population lives in suburbs, more than half the nation’s 51 largest cities are seeing more growth in the core than outside it, according to William Frey at the Brookings Institution.

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