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Friday, June 15, 2012

America's love affair with the motor car is running on empty [The Guardian]


The country once wedded to driving is having its eye turned by other forms of transport – but policymakers are oblivious

A man refuels his car
The number of miles driven by the average American has fallen since 2000. Photograph: Joe Baraban/Alamy
America's love of driving is iconic. The open road is a central manifestation of America the free. During the 20th century, the total movement of cars and trucks on our national roads and highways grew as fast as our economy, or faster. Movement – measured by total vehicle miles travelled (VMT) – was considered an unqualified blessing. In the 1960s each American drove about 5,000 miles a year in a car, van, or truck. By 2000 that number was 10,000 miles. Which means we are twice as well off – right?
Wrong. In the early years of the 21st century, something very interesting happened. Individual vehicle travel in America lost its glamour – and its connection to economic growth. In 2003 when VMT was 2.9 trillion miles, US gross domestic product was just under $11tr. In 2011 GDP passed $15tr while total vehicle travel was still about 2.9 trillion miles. In 2011 alone GDP went up 1.5% while VMT went down 1.5%. VMT per capita is receding as well, with each American now travelling less than 9,500 miles annually.

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