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Published on February 2nd, 2018 | by James Ayre

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7x More Vehicle Miles Traveled In US In 2016 Than In 1950 (With Only A Doubling Of The Population)

February 2nd, 2018 by  


Despite the fact that the US population has “only” doubled in the years since 1950, the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the country has increased 7-times over since then, going on recent data from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL’s) Transportation Energy Data Book.

To be more clear, in 2016 the number of miles traveled by vehicle in the US increased 7-times over as compared to in 1950, despite the fact that the population has only increased 2-times over.

So, people are obviously traveling long-distances far more, and commuting far more — by what means? Well, the new data also shows that the number of vehicles in operation in the US increased 6-times over between the years of 1950 and 2016, so the answer is obvious — by personal vehicle/car.

The rise of the personal car, of suburbia, and of endless and expensive to maintain road and highway networks has enabled this trend. Also, the rise of food trucked from the other side of the country, cheap low-spec imported crap, and the burning of enormous amounts of marine death sludge (oil) has set the stage for this.

I know that many people who read about such things like to dismiss them as inevitabilities, but they really weren’t — the destruction of the numerous and very effective tram and train networks of the US was part of a concerted effort by those betting on the rise of oil (by those with interests in such a rise, that is).

This is all very well documented, and by no means a “conspiracy theory” — it was just business, as they say. (“It’s just business,” is also the reason that international firms always make sure to leave a bit of spare change around to pay for the murders of anti-deforestation or lands rights activists when operating in the third world.)

It’s notable that in the cities where the ripping up of the public transit systems didn’t occur, that the systems still seem to function quite well, even a century later. The tram system in Melbourne (Australia) comes to mind, but there are certainly other examples as well.

While I am a proponent of plug-in electric vehicles, the truth is that personal auto use in the US is probably near its peak right about now — whether or not people want to, as the country continues loosing preferred access to international markets (as the international wealth pump peters out in other words) the number of people who can afford to drive will fall quite a bit.

It will become too expensive to drive, in other words. The problem with that is that it will leave many of those in the US in a catch-22, as it’s also “too expensive” not to drive in many places (in other words, without a car you’re not going to have a job).

So what will occur? In large cities it’s possible that shuttle, ride-sharing, or bus services might increase enough to meet the needs of the populace. In rural areas? I don’t think there’s any simple answer there, perhaps just further depopulation.

As far as the trends now occurring, Green Car Congress provides a bit more: “The number of vehicles and vehicle travel began a short decline in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but have grown to new highs in recent years. Growth in licensed drivers has not kept the pace with the growth of vehicle miles traveled reflecting that the average driver drove more miles in 2016 than in 1950. Changing land use patterns and expanding roadway networks have contributed to this trend.”

I should probably be clear here. No, I’m not saying that no one will be driving a car in the US 20 years from now — what I’m saying is that the number of people who can’t afford to will continue rising; that more and more people will be forced to make other (cheaper) arrangements.

From the perspective of limiting the intensity of anthropogenic climate warming and weirding this is a “good” thing, though it won’t matter too much if other wealthier countries take up the slack with regard to resource consumption and the use of personal vehicles and miles-traveled. Or, perhaps more importantly, such an occurrence won’t mean much of anything if the human population continues growing for several decades more.

As evidenced in the figures for 1950 discussed above, clearly there are other ways of living, ones that don’t involve so much needless commuting and long-distance travel. A return to such a way of living is pretty much a necessity at this point.


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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.



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