In a highly interesting cover story in Miller-McCune, Melinda Burns, pulling from a Stanford University study, shares that passenger travel has not increased in the industrialized world since 2000.
that seemingly inexorable trends — ever more people, more cars and more driving — came to a halt in the early years of the 21st century, well before the recent escalation in fuel prices.
In many ways this isn’t suprising. There are, after all, diminishing marginal returns on even longer commutes (the biggest contributor to passenger travel).
highway gridlock, parking problems, high prices at the gas pump and an aging population that doesn’t commute may be contributing to peak travel. People already spend an average 1.1 hours per day traveling from one place to another, and driving speeds can’t get much faster.
What’s interesting is that government predictions of growth in passenger miles extend higher and higher, affecting emissions predictions. But a trend will continue until it can’t (anyone remember the 1999 predictions of an ever upward Cisco stock price, whose values would have exceeded the GDP of Germany). The projections of increasing miles fall into this category.
“You get to a point where everybody who could possibly drive, drives,”
But it get’s even better than that. In addition to reaching peak miles, cars use less energy now as well. From a Washington Post article on a counter point
automakers have been improving fuel efficiency for years, selling cars with ever-more-efficient engines. In fact, a car purchased today is able to extract nearly twice as much power from a gallon of gas as its counterpart did 25 years ago.
Clearly the growth in travel in China and India will more than counter our gains. But the world is not static and innovations in fuel efficiency will continue. Highlighting the challenge we face
There’s no question that the task of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in transportation is daunting. According to one estimate, vehicle travel in the U.S. would have to fall by half by 2050, or fuel efficiency would have to improve to 130 miles per gallon, or biofuels would have to make up most of the fuels on the market to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Heck, 130 miles per gallon by 2050 doesn’t seem so daunting. We can already make such a car.